If you are interested in a new concept of old-fashioned love, make a beaten path to The Group Repertory Theatre’s successful adaptation of
William Shakespeare’s “Romeo And Juliet” running through October 14th in the North Hollywood Arts District.
Set in pre-World War II Berlin, Germany, where Romeo is a German boy and Juliet a Jewish girl,
this brand new version of the more than 450-year-old play manages to hold onto its luster and heartbreak at the same time.
The language dances, dodges and demands. It ascends to the turquoise sky while descending through lush valleys and aqua green oceans with the
beauty of a black eagle soaring and the sophistication of Audrey Hepburn in the Oscar-winning film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
The words have never sounded more appealing, passionate and refreshing. The metaphors powerful and explosive.
This Shakespeare is as pure as possible given the fresh twist.
The syllables echoing off the walls of the staid Lonny Chapman Theatre as the actors come down from Row Z reciting line after rich line.
Oh, to have been a piece of paper staring at the Bard’s ink pen during his heyday of penning about 38 plays and 154 sonnets.in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s.
Director Shira Dubrovner, a former GRT member, installs a large digital black and white screen on the wall behind the stage
flashing photographs, statements, explanations and quotes regarding the Jewish experience in Germany during the 1930’s.
This visual aid is a brilliant friend to the proceedings as it explains the whys and wherefores of the plot and past.
As one who has seen many deplorable ideations of Shakespeare, I am thrilled and happy to report that this adaptation works because it adds
a deeper, more tragic and meaningful layer to Shakespeare’s already potent, fervent and electric story.
Stan Mazin’s choreography is brazen, bold and beautiful.
It reminds of “West Side Story” not only in its Capulets (Jets) versus Montagues (Sharks) antagonistic, anti-hero glory, but its stark, brave and naked
motivation, movement and montage.
The dance sequences shimmer in moon dust and the fight action in bloody, but soul redeeming physical magic.
Dubrovner assembles a wonderfully gifted cast that comprehends the simple beauty and complexity of the playwright’s poetic symmetry.
Mike Bingaman (Romeo) gives a convincing turn as the star crossed lover.
The native of Perth, Western Australia brings a strong and solid emotional and spiritual makeup to the role that
leaves us, the audience, deeply touched and moved.
The American Academy of Dramatic Arts graduate embraces the part as if it was his own while not
forgetting who Romeo is at his core.
Savannah Schoenecker (Juliet) portrays her character with a mix of jubilation and suffering that leave tears beneath the seats and
silent hosannas wafting towards the rafters.
The AADA graduate’s soul felt and heart full spontaneity is enough to awaken a slumbering Paul Bunyan as she sprints and saunters to and from the stage throughout the evening.
Schoenecker’s Second Act is a thing of delicate, tender and transcendent power, sensitivity and beauty.
She gives all and holds back none in some of the Bard’s most difficult lines and monologues.
But running away with the show is Heston Horwin (Tybalt) whose stage presence and intensity command the boards and whose every breath we believe and dare not betray.
Given that this is Horwin’s Los Angeles theatrical debut, the young actor’s seeming experience and maturity belie his age.
Yet once he opens his mouth we realize that this old soul will be around the theatre for decades to come.
Also running away with the play is Kyle deCamp (Mercutio) whose performance makes us weep, laugh and contemplate the state of humanity and society.
In what is one of the truest characterizations I have seen not only at the GRT, but anywhere ever, the University of Southern California BFA rules the stage, his arresting sense of humor and
nimble physique meshing perfectly with Shakespeare in mind, spirit and body.
It is little wonder, then, that deCamp has studied the Bard with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and worked with the Montana Shakespeare Company.
DeCamp’s larger than life stage presence is on full display here, especially in Act One, where he shows that the only limitations placed on an artist’s abilities and talents
are those he or she puts there him or herself.
Adding to the message of the play are Cheryl Crosland’s costumes, Steve Shaw’s ever consistent work on sound design and J. Kent Inasy’s typically innovative light design.
In the end, “Romeo And Juliet,” which had its world premiere at Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre where Dubrovner serves as Artistic Director and Festival Director of the Mammoth Lakes
Film Festival, succeeds because of its
new setting, not despite it.
Putting the classic in such a rare, unique and historically significant place at such an important time in mankind’s journey only helps solidify the acrobatic and Herculean imagination and vision
behind this production.
The new surroundings prove thought provoking and timeless in their authenticity, sincerity and further understanding of the mistrust, hatred and jealousy the two houses harbor for each other.
Give us a playwright whose sentient work and prolific output have been described as “the literary bridge to God” along with a talented director, choreographer and cast.
Let them shine a direct spotlight on German Fuhrer Adolph Hitler and the often unspoken truth that if good men and women are silent when there is nothing but bad surrounding them,
the bad will continue or increase in size and scope, and you have more than a play about a boy and a girl and their families, but a direct condemnation and indictment of those who stood, stand
and will continue to stand by and say
and do nothing while Rome burns.
By placing us in this fresh bubble, the love story also intensifies focus on the meaning and mission of love in a seemingly sexually-stimulated world interested more in uppers and downers such as
alcohol and drugs
which numb not further the euphoria, joy and wisdom accompanying true love.
By choosing this tragedy as past of its main stage season, the GRT has once more proven that it is one of the most inspired, inventive and innovative theatre ensembles not only in the City of
Angels, but the country.
Once turning-out little more than “community theatre” fare, the GRT has made a remarkable turnaround in less than a decade under the leadership of Co-Artistic Directors Larry Eisenberg and
Chris Winfield to a wonderfully creative
theatre and thought factory for many of the
deepest, most compelling, prolific and honored plays of our time and the actors, directors, choreographers and crew that wish to spread their message.
The future certainly seems sun red on Burbank Boulevard under these two theatrical visionaries.
The GRT is the San Fernando Valley’s Truth Tangerine.
Kudos to the juice it makes and all those who regularly drown in it.
It appears to be paying maximum dividends.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza
Theatre and Book Critic
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm
Talk back after Sunday matinee on September 23rd.
General Admission: $25
Seniors/Students with ID: $20
Groups 10+: $15
Information/General Admission: (818) 763-5990
Where: Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601.