Regional Reviews: San Diego
Romeo, Romeo & Juliet
Also see Bill's review of The Tempest
During rehearsals for the staging of the famous tragedy, it becomes apparent that director Simon (Brian Mackey) and the lead actor playing Romeo, Tracy (Michael Silberblatt), share a strong working relationship; there are a few hints that they may also have romantic feelings for one another. They have to, however, work with a young actress named Nancy (Michelle Marie Trester), who has little experience when it comes to performing Shakespeare. Tracy and Simon become annoyed with Nancy's amateurish acting, yet they decide to give her a chance to prove her worth. She quickly becomes attracted to Tracy, which complicates matters for all three artists.
Playwright and Roustabouts founding member Ruff Yeager includes in his play several insider gags that are targeted toward audience members who are part of the theatre world. Lines about the theatre company, the rehearsal process, and Shakespeare's script make the story a funny and accurate depiction of show business. Even with so many clever lines targeted at theater-savvy audiences, Yeager doesn't alienate those who are not as familiar with the arts. That's because the characters he has created all have very human personalities that develop throughout the staging. Each of the three stars stand out because of their performances and the strong interactions their characters share in the play.
Mackey is equally nurturing and irritated as the hardworking storyteller, Simon. His portrayals of moments of anger are so funny that Simon never comes across as being too pompous or unlikable. Much calmer in his performance is Silberblatt, who portrays Tracy with a sharp sense of humor. Silberblatt is able to convincingly depict both the professional and loose sides of the Romeo and Juliet lead. Naïve and less sure of herself, Nancy attracts our sympathy early on, as Trester portrays her in an eccentrically comical manner. A few comments, including one about Tasmanian devils, do make her seem removed from the outside world in a way that can come across as unrealistic. These punchlines still land, as Trester is such an engaging presence. While drama might not be the focus of the play, the cast members provide moving moments during a couple of scenes in act two. If these sequences at first seem dissonant given the generally lighthearted tone, they feel true to the rehearsal period of a show.
Director Kim Strassburger keeps the energy of the piece consistent and stages moments of physical comedy with strong timing, and her direction ranges from calm to manic. As almost all the action is about rehearsing the play, technical elements are downplayed. An exception is the jazz music chosen by sound designer Yeager, such as the piano-heavy version of the Habanera from Carmen, adding to the humorous atmosphere.
The complicated attraction that exists among the characters ensures that melodrama is pretty much absent in Romeo, Romeo & Juliet, and the protagonists deal with their issues in calm and mature ways that make tense situations better. Yeager intelligently showcases the emotional growth for Simon and his two leads and, because of his careful depiction of the characters, he shows a surprising amount of empathy for them as the plot progresses.
Romeo, Romeo & Juliet ends up being a smart tribute to entertainment, thanks to Yeager's well-rounded characters and Strassburger's expert direction. It is heartening to see that The Roustabouts Theatre Co., a relatively new organization, is producing unique and fresh stories.
The Roustabouts Theatre Co. presents Romeo, Romeo & Juliet through July 8, 2018, at 6663 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego CA. Performances are Sundays through Saturdays. Tickets are $38.00 and can be purchased online at www.theroustabouts.org or by phone at 619-728-7820