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Fresh-faced 'Romeo & Juliet' center stage in Bowling Green PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID DUPONT Arts & Entertainment Editor   
Thursday, 13 February 2014 11:37
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Juliet (left, performed by Abbey Casion) speaks as Romeo (right, performed by Josh Powell) looks on admiringly in a Lionface Production of 'The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet'. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Leave it to Lionface Productions to rescue "Romeo and Juliet" from years of overwork.
The play is easy to take for granted, The play's tropes have been pop culture fodder. The play itself reduced in public imagination a grand costume drama, a romantic trifle. We all think we know this play.
The great value of what Lionface, and its sister troupe Beautiful Kids Independent Shakespeare Company,  is to strip Shakespeare of the gloss. Though the production values are those of street theater, this makes these plays all the more valuable.
In the Lionface production of "Romeo and Juliet," which opens tonight at 8 and continues with shows through Sunday in the old church at 123 E. Court St.. the love and murders, the sweet talk and vitriol, unfold at an intimate distance.
The actors, under the direction of Ryan Albrecht, have only themselves to rely on to bring the oft-told tale to life.
And they do with vitality and grit, rescuing our star-crossed lovers from freshman English class.
When the Capulet and Montague boys brawl (though in true Lionface tradition, some of those bawdy boys are played with conviction  by women), it's a street fight. With fight choreography by producer Michael Portteus, bodies crash to the floor, and actors grunt, enough for the audience to be concerned for the actor's and maybe their own safety.
This version sets Verona as an early 19th century east coast city - the Dropkick Murphys' "Shipping Out to Boston" blares on the stereo before the play begins. The Capulets are Italian, and the Montagues are Irish. The accents are hit and miss, but in the case of Josh Powell's Romeo his brogue adds a sweetness to his lines. He truly does speak poetry, even when affecting a the naturalistic delivery the troupe favors.
Juliet's nursemaid  Brigid Randolph nails a Queens accent especially in her first scene, adding a comic touch.
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Josh Powell in the role of Romeo, waits backstage during a rehearsal of 'The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet' — a Lionface production.
Powell and Abbey Casino as Juliet are hormone-fueled lovers. He's a high-minded poet, and she so willing to be set afire by his words.   
The whole production makes sure the audience understands the sexual charge of Shakespeare's verse. Juliet's nurse spells out that Juliet can look forward to a wild wedding night in bed when she is married, against her will, to the nobleman Paris (Allie Levine).
While the title characters are a winning couple, what comes through strongly in this "Romeo and Juliet" is the social context of their affair.
The most powerful scene is between Juliet and her father (Kevin Caudill) when he learns she is spurning Paris, his choice for her husband.
Caudill screams inches from her face, grabs at her and slams the wall. This is more than one father's frustration but rather the fury of a patriarchal system insulted by a girl, who is considered little more than chattel. It is animated with the spirit that still leads to "honor" killings in some societies.
The anger of Capulet and Montague (Portteus) fuels the young people's rage. That's embodied by Capulet's nephew Tybalt (Griffin Coldiron) and Romeo's friend Mercutio (Kat Moran). Tybalt prideful,  easy to anger while Mercutio is an over-excitable dreamer. Their duel leaves them dead and Romeo banished.
As Romeo's cousin Benvolio (Sam Driscoll) is a stalwart friend, who like everyone else contributes his unwitting part to the unfolding tragedy. Justin Betancourt's Prince is a powerful authority figure, nonetheless unable to keep his kinsmen from killing each other.
Joel Paine as Friar Lawrence is the measured voice in all this, the reasonable man, who seeks a reasonable course, at once trying to cool the young people's passions, while finding a way to circumvent the society strictures.
In the end with the lovers dead and all his efforts gone wrong, his grief is palatable. Never has the reconciliation at the end seemed so empty, a draw in a bitter war of attrition. Never has "Romeo and Juliet" seemed so raw, and full of life.
 

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