On Theater: 'Romeo and Juliet' given modern-day revival

April 14, 2011|By Tom Titus
  • A scene from Vanguard University's production of "Romeo and Juliet."
A scene from Vanguard University's production… (Photo by Susie Hudson )

Vanguard University offers a dynamic, passionate and visceral production of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."

Director Susan Berkompas has set her concept of this classic tragedy in the here and now. Her vision of a "modern day, industrial Verona" features tattooed gang bangers in both the Capulet and Montague camps.

The seething antagonism between the two families (the reason for the feud is not provided) pervades the Vanguard production and often overshadows the forbidden romance at the play's core. But once the two title characters are joined, their tragic attraction dominates, as it should.

Too often, directors cast older, more seasoned actors in the parts written for a boy and girl in their mid-teens. Royen Kent and Rosalyn Brickman may be college students, but both are physically convincing in the title roles.

Kent excels in the guise of a lovesick youth, acting against all constraints from both his elders and peers. His passion for Brickman, and hers for him, are splendidly interpreted, although the script itself becomes a bit melodramatic toward the climax.


Brickman's budding lass, with her intense defiance of her parents' wishes, is solidly and realistically presented. Her abhorrence of arranged marriage, common in Shakespeare's time, strikes a welcome discord in this futuristic version and her blind devotion to her young lover is strikingly effected.

Nearly as powerful as Romeo's part is that of Mercutio, the hero's garrulous ally who waxes eloquently and clashes superbly with the snarling Tybalt (a powerful Preston Butler III) in the show's major conflict. Why Butler doubles in a throwaway role as the apothecary late in the show is anyone's guess.

Mark Bowen, the only seasoned adult in the cast, strikes a fine balance as Friar Lawrence, the clergyman who assists the lovers. Katelyn Spurgin also impresses as Juliet's strongly opinionated nurse and confidante.

Other supporting roles are either overplayed (Brandon Arias as Juliet's fuming father) or underdone (Dain Ouradnik as Juliet's would-be husband). Karah Macie Gravatt strikes the proper balance as Juliet's mother, as does Zach Simons as Romeo's pal, Benvolio.

Director Berkompas has assigned her son, Connor, the task of designing a multi-use setting, marked by huge moving screens and wheeled ladders. Executed by technical director Paul Eggington, the concept works splendidly.

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