Review by Grace Eichler
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company re-opened their doors with a classic, William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet.” In a departure from the trendy modernizations of classics, the production stays true to text in Late Renaissance Italy. It’s Shakespeare done true to form, by an excellent cast and crew.
Director Darnell Pierre Benjamin doesn’t let us sit in the stuffiness of old-timey Verona, however. He and his cast breathe humor throughout the production. Gina Cerimele-Mechley takes on double duty as the Nurse as well as the show’s Fight Director, displaying both the scene-stealing comedic relief and complicated weapons work, from daggers to swords to hand to hand combat.
The young lovers, Crystian Wiltshire and Courtney Lucien, bring a youth and vitality to the couple. Emphasizing their young ages early on (fourteen!) reminds you that these are barely young adults, more like hormonal teens falling in love hard and fast, while emotions run high. Wiltshire’s Romeo starts off his “sad boy summer” by pining over Rosaline, until he’s shown Juliet. Flick of a switch later, and now he’s doodling her name on his notebook. Lucien’s Juliet contains the giddiness and impertinence of a fourteen year old girl, with just enough fire to keep the giggles in check.
The casting itself is far more modern and approachable than the days of Shakespeare, with ethnic diversity, a variety of ages, and even a female Friar Lawrence (the always deft Kelly Mengelkoch). There was a youthful energy in Romeo’s squad, notably the vivacious Mercutio (Geoffery Warren Barnes II), that contrasted the familial unit from Lord and Lady Capulet (Jeremy Dubin and Sara Mackie). It’s a pleasure to watch both Dubin and Mackie as they create two different parental influences on their budding young daughter.
The production is anchored by a stunning scenic design by Samantha Reno, making her CSC debut. From stained glass windows to running water features to the ever-famous balcony, she allows her cast to navigate the hidden layers of the script while climbing to new interpretations.
It’s been too long since we’ve seen such a traditional take on Shakespeare, but it allows the text to do the talking, not hide under a metaphor. Sometimes light and lovely, other times tragic and tear jerking, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is exactly who you want to see doing the Bard’s work, and doing it wonderfully. “Romeo & Juliet” runs October 8 – November 13, and tickets are available at cincyshakes.com or calling 513-381-2273.
Grace Eichler is a Cincinnati-based dentist. She is a Miami University alum, where she was in main-stage shows and past-president of Stage Left. She has performed locally in musicals and comedies. She developed her love of writing for theatre in Cappies, a program that trains high school students to review theatre.