ASP begins 10th season with uneven ‘Romeo’

Nurse (Paula Langton) & Juliet (Julie Ann Earls) in   Actors' Shakespeare Project’s “Romeo and Juliet.”   through November 3 at Boston's Historical Strand Theatre. Photo courtesy Stratton McCrady Photography.  For tickets and information visit www.actorsshakespeareproject.org

Nurse (Paula Langton) & Juliet (Julie Ann Earls) in Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s “Romeo and Juliet.” through November 3 at Boston’s Historical Strand Theatre. Photo courtesy Stratton McCrady Photography. For tickets and information visit http://www.actorsshakespeareproject.org

DORCHESTER — The Actors Shakespeare Project has marked the beginning of its 10th season with an uneven, but at times passionate and powerful production of “Romeo and Juliet” at the Strand Theatre through Nov. 3.
The group has brought the iconic work about the blood feud between the Capulets and the Montagues in the Italian city of Verona to the grand but underutilized Strand, where the Fiddlehead Theatre has also taken up residence.
This “Romeo” is performed in modern dress, and there are modern cultural references, including some rapping, and while it has infused the production with some “street cred,” it doesn’t all work. The result: Conflict between The Bard and what the text is trying to say and where the directors and actors are trying to go. Thus, this “Romeo” lives at times between two worlds.
In an engaging and interesting idea, about 80 theater-goers are seated on stage, right in the midst of the action, as the street brawl erupts at the outset of the work.
The idea seems to be that they that act as ”witnesses” to the bloodlust and bloodletting between the two families that is at the core of the show.
Alas, the devil is in the details. A couple of those on stage at a recent show incessantly fanned themselves, distracting the audience watching the production.
The actors find themselves playing to an audience both in front of them and behind them, and at times — especially in the first act — actors addressed one audience at the expense of the other.
Given the intimate setting in the theater, it isn’t a major flaw; but there were times you struggled to hear a piece of dialogue. In this type of staging, actors have to be very cognizant at all times of projecting well enough so that audiences on both sides can hear.
Jason Bowen, who stepped in to replace another actor, is a very vital, physical Romeo,
Julie Ann Earls is innocence and sweetness as Juliet, the 13-year-old girl but steely resolve and passion in her
As Mercutio, Maurice Emmanuel Parent delivers another in a series of engaging performances. He also has a most interesting take on the Apothecary in the second act.
There is some steadfast support from Antonio Ocampo-Guzman as Friar Lawrence, the cleric who is Romeo’s trusted friend and agrees to marry the young lovers in a bid to stop the feud between the families.
Paula Langton is also a solid, steady presence as Juliet’s Nurse, Juliet’s confidante and advisor who has raised her. While several actors and actresses are kind of going off in their own directions here, she has played it fairly straight an d reaped the benefits
Paige Clark, a female, is playing Benvolio, one of several examples of non-traditional casting in the production.
Ken Baltin as Capulet and Miranda Craigwell as Lady Capulet lend gravitas; Ben Rosenblatt doesn’t have much to offer Paris and Prince
Actors Shakespeare Project artistic director Allyn Burrows co-directed with longtime company member Bobbie Steinbach, and you always wonder who decided to do what. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Burrows suggested he was more involved in the comedy of the piece with Steinbach concentrating on the emotional side of the production.
The ever-resourceful set designer Janie E. Howland has festooned the stage with banners depicting various characters and scenes from the production. The fight scenes, by the way, are very skillfully designed by Trevor Olds.
A quick digression: If you should someday find yourself in Italy, make sure you stop in the charming city of Verona at Via Cappello 23 in the center of the city, the Casa de Giuletta, or Juliet’s House, where the Capuleti family is said to have lived, complete with the famous balcony. It was featured prominently in the 2010 movie “Letters to Julia.”
Until then, the Verona created on the Columbia Road in Dorchester will have to suffice.
Just a reminder: If you are seated on stage at the Strand, try to keep the fanning and the scratching to a minimum. You’re being watched.
The Actors Shakespeare Project production of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” through Nov. 3 At the Strand Theatre, 543 Columbia Road, Dorchester. Directed by Allyn Burrows and Bobbie Steinbach. Scenic design by Janie E. Howland. Lighting design by Jen Rock. Costume and mask design by Kathleen Doyle. Choreography by Susan Dibble. Sound design by Arshan Gailus. Violence design by Trevor Olds.www.actorsshaekespeareproject.org.

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