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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 9, 2005

Tragic love tale set in modern climate

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Drama Critic


Ernst Lab Theatre, University of Hawai'i 7:30 p.m. tonight, 3:30 p.m. tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. Friday, 3:30 p.m. July 16, 7:30 p.m. July 20-21 and July 29; 3:30 p.m. July 30 $18 ($16 seniors and military; $10 students) 531-3773 www.hawaiishakes.com

Watching the restaging of a familiar classic, especially when the director puts a new spin on things, can be interesting and fun. So it is with "Romeo and Juliet," directed by Tony Pisculli and the second play in this summer's Hawaii Shakespeare Festival.

The star-crossed young lovers in this production come across as stubborn teenagers who ultimately damage themselves in response to confining social pressures. Juliet is disowned by her father for refusing his choice of husband. Romeo is banished as the family feud rages.

But for a moment, their fresh discovery of genuine young love holds the world at bay. That moment can't last. The world once again crushes in on them; there is more murder and suicide.

The purity of that moment is not strongly felt in this production, leaving it an action drama with plenty to see and hear but without a strong core. What's to see includes dark staging and punk rumbles in the streets of Verona. Cross-gender casting has us paying close attention.

Shawn Thomsen plays Juliet's Nurse, a large-bosomed, wimpled comic presence that needs only a bit more modulation to be truly effective.

Marissa Robello is cast as Juliet's cousin Tybalt, the hothead who kills Mercutio and is subsequently dispatched by Romeo. Her threatening presence is a blend of violence and sexuality that Shakespeare never intended.

Pisculli's choice of plot point to break the original five acts into two also tips the scales from young love to street violence. In the central fight scene, Romeo is inexorably drawn in to avenge Mercutio's death. Robello's Tybalt reappears in a dark doorway like a streetwalker. Romeo picks up a fallen weapon, giving in to fate as we cut to intermission.

This tipping point also marks a significant change in Romeo's character from bookish pacifist to avenging ninja.

Michelle Gordon O'Malley presents a tougher nature as Juliet. Essentially a character object in the first part of the play, she emerges with the strength to make disagreeable choices from limited options as the tragedy heats up.

Live accompaniment by Damned Spot Drums (Chris Fung, Deborah Masterson, and Tara Severns) heightens the drama.