An Athletic Concept Version of Romeo and Juliet

Alex Morf (Romeo) and Sarah Nellis (Juliet) meet for the first time. Photo by Kevin

ROMEO AND JULIET. Written by William Shakespeare Directed by Jonathan Moscone. California Shakespeare Theater (Cal Shakes), Bruns Amphitheater, 100 Gateway Blvd., Orinda, CA 94563 (just off Highway 24 at the Shakespeare Festival Way/Gateway Exit, one mile east of the Caldecott Tunnel.) Complimentary shuttle from Orinda BART beginning 90 minutes prior to curtain. Complimentary parking onsite. 510.548.9666, or online at

May 27 – June21


The trend of producing concept versions of Shakespeare’s classic plays to attract younger people to the theatre continues with Cal Shakes athletic, modern dress staging of Romeo and Juliet for their 35th anniversary opening. All this is part of “Shakespeare for a New Generation” that targets middle and high school students, introducing young people to the power of live theater and the masterpieces of William Shakespeare. Director Moscone elected to emphasize the dichotomy of age, youthful rebellion, harsh reality of gang warfare, and youthful self-centered instant gratification to replace the time honored beauty of pure love. The play is brought into modern times before the ubiquitous use of computers. If instant messages, Face Book or Twitter were available the tragedy of the star-crossed lovers would have been averted and the marvelous opening monolog by the Prince (Julian Lopez-Morillas) rendered superfluous and that would be a pity.

Director Moscone has made the opening lines,

Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,” moot.

In this production the senior Capulets (James Carpenter and Julie Eccles two superb actors) and Montagues (powerful L. Peter Callender and regal Catherine Castellanos) are infused with arrogance and “fair Verona” plagued with two street gangs. The physical and emotional gap between the generations has emphasis in the costumes (Raquel M. Baretto), with the young males in dungarees and sneakers and parents in conventional dress.

Romeo (a bravura performance by Alex Morf) appears to be a hyperactive boy high on methamphetamine with non-stop stage movement and spectacular leaps around and up the two story high staircase rising from right to left across two thirds of the stage (sets by Neil Patel). When the 14-year-old Juliet (Sarah Nellis) appears high up in an rectangular opening on the unadorned monochromatic portion of the stage, her demeanor is that of a self-centered frivolous tweener, which she is and Nellis nails the part in the one hour and 20 minute act one. At intermission, there was an electric expectation that Moscone would pull off another success in the mode of his previous masterpieces.

Inexplicably, there is a dramatic change that mars the initial promise. The director seems to have taken a page from Les waters staging of Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore and the death scenes are awash with flowing blood and excessive wailing and moaning from all. Romeo’s bludgeoning to death of Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (Craig Marker) with a skateboard (did I forget to mention the skateboard in act one?) is gruesome. Individual scenes between Friar Lawrence (Dan Hiatt), Juliet’s Nurse (Catherine Castellanos), Romeo or Juliet are frenetic rather than being moments of contemplation and sanity.

Of all the actors giving fine performances, Catherine Castellanos in her dual role as the Nurse wins the brass ring for her histrionic portrayal (that is meant as a compliment) that injects much needed humor to the proceedings. Jud Williford as Mercutio dominates the stage whenever he appears. Craig Marker as Tybalt exudes animosity and seems deserving of his violent death. Liam Vincent does not do justice in the role of Paris, Juliet’s spurned lover. James Carpenter, Julie Eccles, L. Peter Callender have voices that Shakespeare would be admire.

Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, contrary to what the Prince announces in the opening monolog “Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage”.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

TheatreWorld Internet Magazine