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THEATER REVIEW

Spirit counts in a bracing 'Romeo'

A good bit of humor is added to the immortal romantic tragedy in a production by Shakespeare Orange County.

August 13, 2007|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

Two households, both alike in energy if not always dignity, drive the limber Shakespeare Orange County revival of "Romeo and Juliet" in Garden Grove. This bracing open-air reading of the immortal romantic tragedy sets the fire sparkling in its title lovers' eyes by marrying traditional technique to unexpected humor.

After Craig Brown's prince delivers his sonorous prologue, the warring Capulet and Montague servants set the tone of clear articulation and rampant physicality. Judiciously trimming the text, director Michael Nehring launches it around the Festival Amphitheater as a rambunctious ode to puppy love that goes terribly awry on the streets of Verona.

It is a risky approach -- the balcony scene almost plays as high comedy -- but it largely succeeds, and Alex Schemmer and Amanda Zarr make a captivating star-cross'd pair. With his blond mop and house-spanning eyes, Schemmer is an aptly callow Romeo, truly fortune's fool, who grows in poetic command as calamity descends. He throws himself into Edgar Landa's street-smart fight choreography, evincing remarkable vocal range throughout.

The willowy Zarr hardly suggests a 13-year-old, but her giddy gestures and word pointing intelligently evoke an adolescent hurried into adulthood by love.

"You kiss by the book," she tells Romeo at their first meeting, and Zarr's gleeful emphasis makes it clear that Juliet isn't referring to the Bible. After Romeo's banishment, Zarr skillfully darkens her lightweight timbre, and her interior clarity yields affecting results.

Their colleagues support them with variable style but consistent involvement. Jack Messenger presents an understated yet deeply felt Capulet, while West Liang's casually audacious Mercutio revels in randy athleticism. Tamiko Washington owns the audience as the Nurse, her bawdy chortles returning with chilling hollowness in Act 2, and Jeremy Schaeg brings brutish power to Tybalt. Neil Moutrey's plain-spoken Benvolio and Michael D. Fountain's hilariously befuddled Peter are other notable turns among a generally capable cast.

Against set designer Shing Yin Khor's functional gauze-draped platforms, Kathryn Wilson's plush Renaissance costumes effectively establish rank, and William George supplies mood-enhancing lights. This isn't the most inventive or subtle "Romeo and Juliet" on record, but if the laughter and sniffles at the reviewed performance are any indication, its spirited accessibility should satisfy the masses.

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'Romeo and Juliet'

Where: Festival Amphitheater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove

When: 8:15 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays

Ends: Aug. 25

Price: $29

Contact: (714) 590-1575 or www.shakespeareoc.org

Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

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