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Youth Movement Works in an Effective ‘Romeo’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The closer the actors playing star-cross’d lovers Romeo and Juliet are to the characters’ actual ages, the sadder their final undoing. Romeo was 17, his fair Juliet but 14, both too young to understand the dark net they were winding about themselves.

Franco Zeffirelli was lucky for his 1968 film version, finding actors exactly the right age. But Shakespeare Orange County director Thomas F. Bradac gets close to the mark with his very young lovers, Graham Sibley and Erin Byron, in a boisterous, though slightly truncated, revival in Orange.

The action is swift here, without too much romance outside of the balcony scene. There, Sibley’s athletic kinetics contrast with Byron’s equally effervescent and physical mooncalf adorations, which is about as romantic as most teenagers get before they learn a more mature language of love. They are a charming young couple, even when their destiny, fouled by missed messages and skewed timing, leads them to their doom.

Chris Holmes’ unit set is clean-cut and attractive, perhaps a bit too much so for Renaissance Verona, but it is absolutely functional and gives Bradac a useful and visually interesting framework for his staging, which flows in and out of the set like scenes in a film. Bradac keeps the action throughout bright and aggressive, which works well for all the scenes as the individual rhythms within those scenes ebb and flow with the moods.

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Some of the minor characters might not have completely caught on to the poetry they’re asked to speak, but most of the predominantly young cast have, and they follow the lead of the more experienced actors well.

Shakespeare Orange County co-founder Daniel Bryan Cartmell is a powerful Capulet, father of Juliet. He is especially effective in violent and emotional moments, as when the already secretly married Juliet is pleading not to be forced to marry Paris, well played with reserve by Michael Raimondi.

Teri Ciranna gives an amusing and effective reading of Juliet’s nurse, though many of the nurse’s best moments have been deleted. Still, her energy is a nice contrast to the properly cool and, for the time, properly complacent Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother, as played by Erin Davis. Both performances inform--and illuminate--Byron’s Juliet.

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George Roberts’ Friar Lawrence, who engineers the wedding and, unknowingly, the tragic aftermath, is given a rather standard and ordinary reading, without either the humor or fire that can be found in the role.

Of special note is Nathaniel Justiniano’s angry, fiery and volatile Mercutio, deprived here of his luminous Queen Mab speech. But he makes up for it with volcanic passion and an impressive stage presence. Simeon Denk is also effective as the doltish Tybalt, and their duel, choreographed by Christopher Villa, is beautifully realized. Brandon Leighton’s restraint as Benvolio works very well against the background of the bitter anger between the Capulets and the Montagues, a rewarding touch of sanity in a mad world.

* “Romeo and Juliet,” Waltmar Theatre, Chapman University, Orange. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. $22. Ends July 11. (No performance July 4.) (714) 744-7016. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Graham Sibley: Romeo

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Erin Byron: Juliet

Daniel Bryan Cartmell: Capulet

Erin Davis: Lady Capulet

Teri Ciranna: Nurse

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George Roberts: Friar Lawrence

Nathaniel Justiniano: Mercutio

Brandon Leighton: Benvolio

Simeon Denk: Tybalt

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Michael Raimondi: Paris

A Shakespeare Orange County production of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Director: Thomas F. Bradac. Scenic design: Chris Holmes. Lighting design: David Palmer. Costume design: Linda Davisson. Sound design/original music: Chuck Estes. Stage manager: Heather Grindstaff.


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