Romeo and Juliet would have been better as a comedy. Sure, it's probably sacrilege to criticize Shakespeare, especially so soon after his 450th birthday, but it's true. Just imagine, a comedy making fun of bumbling teenagers, fumbling around as they try to sort out their pubescent emotions, ending with a wedding and maybe a leering wink from the Bard.
The Independent Shakespeare Company (who also presents the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival) has staged a production that will make you wish that Romeo and Juliet were a comedy. Director Melissa Chalsma hits the comedic notes with aplomb, keeping the tone in the first act of the stripped-down, 100-minute version light. Once Mercutio (a delightfully funny André Martin) bites the dust (but not his thumb – that scene has been eliminated, along with many others) and the play's melodrama becomes inevitable, the show becomes much less engaging. ]
The production has a distinctly “indie” aesthetic (it is in the company's name, after all), aided by Cat Sowa's charmingly bare-bones set and lighting design and Daniel Mahler's costumes, which winningly mix the past and present.
Unfortunately, the acting is slightly uneven. The cast of eight, perhaps more used to the large amphitheater in Griffith Park, is acting a little too large for their small Atwater Village space. This mostly works in the show's comedic moments, but really impedes the tone when it becomes heavier.
J'aime Morrison-Petronio's choreography is well-intentioned and is great when it works, particularly at the ball where Romeo (Nikhil Pai) and Juliet (Erika Soto) meet each other. However, there are too many moments where the show is overly frenetic, between Morrison-Petronio's choreography and the repetitions of phrases Chalsma has deemed to be important.
Independent Shakespeare Company at the Independent Shakespeare Co. Studio in the Atwater Crossing Arts + Innovation Complex, 3191 Casitas Ave., #168, Atwater Village; through May 25. (818) 780-6306, iscla.org.
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