It’s hard to imagine that even the Bard himself would not be in awe of Lantern Theater Company’s current offering. The theater’s refreshingly genuine take on a well-known classic, coupled with impeccable production talent, meets and in certain cases exceeds the lofty expectations audiences have come to expect from Lantern.
I’ll start with the smart direction by Charles McMahon. It’s almost a given today for a professional theater undertaking Shakespeare to alter the setting in some fashion, either in an attempt to make the material more relatable to the audience or to convey a social, political or historical analogy. McMahon, though, gives his audience credit and, by all appearances, leaves the play in its original setting. Yet in doing so, he manages to sidestep allegations of haughtiness by emphasizing plot points through relatable characters, not antiquated language.
Speaking of characters, McMahon has assembled a top-notch cast, the majority of whom play multiple roles. I never realized how well ROMEO & JULIET can work as an ensemble production, but when you have the talent, it’s a natural choice. And Lantern has the talent. The nine actors demonstrate an authentic comprehension of the material, which they deliver through multifaceted performances. I imagine most people if asked would classify the play as a tragedy or romance, but truth be told there is much comedy in the text, and McMahon and his cast have discovered it. Laughs are abundant, especially in the first act.
Sean Lally and Nicole Erb portray the title roles with a recognizably youthful exuberance. Yet later in the production, Erb in particular displays a mature and touching appreciation of the seriousness of the tragedies and how they will affect her station in life. No less exceptional are the supporting roles. Special mention goes to Ceal Phelan, who captures each comic idiosyncrasy as Juliet’s Nurse; Frank X, who delivers an emotionally rich Friar Laurence; and Charlie DelMarcelle as Mercutio, who invokes the above-mentioned humor neglected in lesser productions.
Other production elements impress as well. Of particular note is the multilevel Verona set designed by Meghan Jones, which is both beautiful and functional, allowing the actors numerous points of entry to keep the play flowing at a rapid clip. Shelley Hicklin’s marvelous lighting design assists in establishing the many distinct scenes. My favorite moment was sunrise falling across Juliet’s balcony that gradually, almost imperceptibly, grew in brilliance as the scene progressed. And Mary Folino’s costumes are right on target.
I have two nitpicks. First, Romeo’s youthful swagger and demeanor seemed too nonchalant in response to the more tragic events that ultimately unfold. Second, while Juliet’s “fake death” was finely staged, the real deaths of the title characters were, from my angle, obstructed by a set piece, lessening the power of the actors’ performances during this crucial segment. (And a side note for those using public transportation—although the box office quoted me a runtime of 2h,45m with intermission, the actual play lasted 3h,10m.)
In sum, Lantern sparkles once again. Any lover of the arts is urged not to overlook this enthralling production.
ROMEO & JULIET
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Charles McMahon
Extended through April 8, 2012
Lantern Theater Company
10th and Ludlow Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19107