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Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Romeo & Juliet
Organization Woodcreek High School
Date(s) of show November 5-8, 2014
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb

The program said “William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet,” but on first impression, it didn’t look like we were going to get Shakespeare’s work.  Entering the Woodcreek High School Performing Arts Center 15 minutes before show time, I saw small groups of students sitting on the stage, which had the façade of a 2-story Victorian house at stage right, and a large, impressionistic, colorful painting at the back of the stage that evoked a city skyline.  Over the next 15 minutes, with the theater fully lit and audience members chatting among themselves, those on the stage came and went, interacted (mostly silently) among themselves, and I began to gather that this was a San Francisco street scene.

When the theater went dark, they played “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (as I recall), and there was a video of a brawl between Giants and Dodgers.  Anyone who read the program notes beforehand was expecting this because Director Adrienne Dritz-Mars explained that they would add a little whimsy and contemporary flavor to the play by presenting the feud between Capulets and Montagues as a rivalry between San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers fans. 

When the play began, though, I quickly realized that this was to be an authentic production of Romeo & Juliet with Shakespeare’s words (mostly).  Some of the early dialog was edited to include baseball references, but throughout the play, Shakespeare’s language prevailed, though “Verona” was replaced with “San Francisco,” and “Mantua” became “Oakland.”  The actors wore team colors, and those orange and blue colors in costume accents helped one continue to distinguish the Capulets from the Montagues.  A purist might balk at all this, but I found it clever and entertaining. 

In fact, I think even a classicist would be delighted to see these young people undertake this play with such commitment and energy.  Most California high schools have Romeo & Juliet in the freshman curriculum, so I presume all the actors had studied the play from an academic point of view.  Perhaps that helps explain the apparent ease with which they pulled this off.  The audience will only get a small part of the Shakespearean dialog, so the acting has to help the audience understand, and I thought the acting was excellent when it had to be.  Of course, in a high school production, one would expect a range of acting talent, but I thought that Luke Donahue and Makenna Shrum were brilliant in the roles of Romeo and Juliet.  Their love, despair and conflicting passions were not only credible, but engrossing.  Another standout to me was Hannah Austefjord in the role of the nurse.  And I have to say that I can’t imagine the role of Mercutio played with more energy, flair and chutzpah than it was played by Topeka Vaughn.  She was outrageous, but, in the final analysis, great fun to watch.

A lot of the pleasure that I got from this performance was in the clever little touches.  Some were in the acting, drawing laughter from the audience and too subtle to describe here.  But many were in the dialog and staging:  Barry Bonds was inserted in the wedding guest list, the house number on the Victorian was “1591” (though I understand this play to have been written and first performed a few years later), etc.  And then there was the scene where Lady Capulet tells Capulet that they won’t have enough food for the proposed wedding of Juliet to Paris.  He pulls out a wallet and offers her several dollars.  She looks at him disdainfully and says “Really?”  At that point he gives her a credit card.  Sure, it’s pretty far from Shakespeare, but I found quirky moments like this fun and a good reason to see this Romeo & Juliet regardless of how many times you’ve seen it before.

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