No matter how you slice it, Shakespeare's classic drama of star-crossed lovers, "Romeo and Juliet," belongs to Romeo. It is he who propels the action. It is he whose grand design is unraveled by the gods and who is ultimately betrayed by forces beyond his control. The power of the play's tragedy also rests in the fact that he is 17 years old, and his lady-love, Juliet, only 15.
The play always works better the younger the lovers, and this youthful production at Fullerton College proves the rule.
Director Robert G. Leigh uses his company to its best advantage in an athletic, sinewy staging that gives a Renaissance patina to the tale and makes a fine frame to surround the performances of its central figures.
Leigh's editing of the script is neat and insightful. If he has given Juliet (Darri Kristin) less of the spotlight than sometimes allotted her, he has at the same time created an interesting sense of balance through a magnified feeling of the forces at work in her final undoing.
She has only fallen in love. It is the passion of the males in her life, and their power over her, that are her undoing. With this script, Kristin doesn't find emotional complexity as the doomed bride until the second half, but her interesting vocal quality and her feeling of smoldering embers being fanned into flames as her destiny becomes clear are effective and affecting.
Kristin is a good balance for the Romeo of Nathan Baesel. If his exceptional performance overshadows hers, it is within Shakespeare's pattern. Romeo is a much more powerfully written role, with more variety and contrast, more detail and depth.
Baesel doesn't miss a note or tone of Romeo's development from a teen-ager hardly able to control his libido, to a burgeoning maturity as the fates close in upon him.
It's a rich performance, made stronger by Baesel's projection--and not only of Romeo's subtle emotional maneuverings. From several vantage points in the theater, even his conversational tones are crystal clear, and he is totally at home with the poetry.
There are some standouts in the supporting cast that help balance a large number of minor players who have difficulty with the Elizabethan style. Shawna Bonaime, and particularly Michael M. Miller, make much of the roles of Juliet's obsessive parents, and Ian Johnson's Paris is something more than the stick Shakespeare has painted.
Matthew Damico's Mercutio is as much the thoughtless delinquent as he should be, with some extra pepper that works well, and Eric Teti's Tybalt is properly opaque and unthinking.
Jennifer Morales is a very charming and funny Nurse to Juliet, with a high-pitched giggle that defines the Nurse perfectly, and Thomas Taylor's Friar Laurence is as solid and vaguely amusing as any Friar Laurence could be. Friar Laurence's first entrance is an example of the many wonderful details Leigh has added: a muffled explosion amid clouds of steam from the Friar's failed experiment.
These sight and sound gags abound in this visually lush staging, and a startling extra is the addition to Chuck Ketter's versatile and attractive Verona setting of a mammoth tomb set, which rises amid clouds of dust from the orchestra pit to cover the stage and provide a fine somber chamber in which to end this saddest of tales.
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Romeo and Juliet
"Romeo and Juliet," Campus Theatre, Fullerton College Theatre Complex, 321 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton. Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. $5-$8. (714) 871-8101. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.
Nathan Baesel Romeo
Darri Kristin Juliet
Matthew Damico Mercutio
Thomas Taylor Friar Laurence
Jennifer Morales Nurse
Michael M. Miller Lord Capulet
Shawna Bonaime Lady Capulet
Eric Teti Tybalt
Ian Johnson Paris
A Fullerton College Theatre Arts Department production of Shakespeare's tragedy. Directed by Robert G. Leigh. Scenic design: Chuck Ketter. Lighting design: Steven Pliska. Sound design: Jim Book. Costume design: Mela Hoyt-Heydon. Makeup/wig/hair design: Sadie Nalian. Dialect director: Aled Davies. Composer: John Mavraides. Stage manager: Jason M. Pendergraft.