Monday, November 29, 2010

Romeo and Juliet

Produced by Merry War Theatre Group at the American Legion Hollywood

[DISCLOSURE:  Co-founder of MWTG and Assitant Director of this production, Phillip Kelly is a dear friend and collaborator (he's one half of "Mssrs. Snapper & Buddy," a neo-vaudvilian act.  I'm the other half.)  He's also the rare person with whom I can be brutally honest about things of an artistic nature, and vice-versa.  There are no eggshells between us, and we've often disagreed passionately about theatre.]

I enjoyed Merry War Theatre Group's production of Romeo and Juliet.  An earnest, appealing cast brings a scrappy production of a Shakespearean staple, relishing in the humor of it all.  We've all seen this show.  We've read it.  We know it like few other Shakespeare plays.  Merry War ditches the emo-melodrama and mines the humanity of Romeo and Juliet's relationship.  When Romeo kills Tybalt in an act of revenge, things begin spiralling out of control.  The stakes become real for the star-crossed lovers in a way I haven't seen happen before.  The storytelling is from the heart and from the head.

The play begins in the downstairs bar, where improvised business between characters leads to the prologue.  This production of Romeo and Juliet takes place in the Verona Hotel and Casino.  The Montagues are service industry workers, the Capulets are patrons of the hotel and casino.  As seems to be the case all too often with attempts to stage Shakespeare somewhere else, the framing conceit doesn't add much to the storytelling, and doesn't play much further than the prologue in the bar.  It doesn't distract, either -- oftentimes what seems like a clever idea imposes itself too heartily on the text, warping it.  That does not happen here. 

The principle playing space is a cavernous, dark atrium in the center of the American Legion building. The actors are before us and to our right and left on the ground floor. They are also above us, on a second floor balcony that surrounds us. We are in the center of all the action, and director Chase McKenna uses this space to great effect.

McKenna is a lovable Juliet, and her Romeo, Adam Burch, is equally appealing.  Other stand-outs in the ensemble include McKinley Belcher III who imbues Mercutio with a delightful flippancy, and Bobbie Keegan who brings a brogue-ish charm to the Nurse.  I'm happy to say there's not a dull note in the entire cast.

BRING CASH FOR THE BAR!  And keep in mind that you may not bring your drinks with you into the principle performing space.

Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8:00 pm through December 12th at The Hollywood American Legion, 2035 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles.  Bar opens at 6:00pm.  There is ample parking at the American Legion, but bring $5 CASH.

Tickets via Brown Paper Tickets or Goldstar.

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