It seems that nine out of ten Shakespeare productions utilize some sort of high concept staging. Directors love to set his plays in other times and places, which is how we get “Midsummer Night’s Dream” set during the Vietnam War and Othello as a vampire. Only about one in ten of these high concept productions are as illuminating as theatre companies seem to think, which is why Babes With Blades’ mostly straightforward rendering of “Romeo and Juliet” is refreshing.
The show features an all female cast but one scarcely notices this after a moment or two as these actresses are all very good. Technically the Babes have chosen to set the play in the late 19th century. Whatever, at least it’s still Italy. This typical time warp does lead to the show’s weakest moment, in which Romeo (the appropriately passionate, sympathetic Gillian Humiston) pulls a gun when he’s losing a sword fight, thereby making himself look like a punk.
Still, that’s just one moment in this unpretentious, faithful tale of star crossed lovers which is enlivened by some great performances. Amy Harmon, who can usually be found in a Babes With Blades show doing something awesome and crazy, makes for a delightful, manic Mercutio. Eleanor Katz as the Nurse brilliantly captures every moment of that character’s essential comedy and pathos. For efficiency, the show compresses Lord and Lady Capulet into one character, played as a terrifying tyrant with small moments of compassion by Maggie Kettering.
The show’s archetypal moments, the balcony, the suicides etc. are all presented beautifully.
If you’re familiar with this play, and most people are, there’s not much new here, but this show will remind you of why it’s so great in the first place.