Romeo and Juliet produced by Ten Thousand Things Theater Co.

Anna Sundberg as Juliet; Namir Smallwood as Romeo. Photo: Peter Vitale

Anna Sundberg as Juliet; Namir Smallwood as Romeo. Photo: Peter Vitale

What Ten Thousand Things Theatre Company (TTT) does consistently well is to dramatize what is timeless in a play. In this case, the play is “Romeo and Juliet,” one that’s been reimagined perhaps more than any other play. But under Peter Rothstein’s sensitive direction, I saw things I’d never seen before: the playful teenager quality of the balcony scene, the artifice of Lady Capulet, Friar Lawrence’s quick mind and deep understanding of the larger picture, more possibilities for comic relief in the servant roles.

The little mistakes in the story that become turning point moments were never “given away.” We know that Romeo got in the way in Mercutio’s fight with Tybalt, that Friar John didn’t deliver the letter, and Paris confronts Romeo in Juliet’s tomb. But do we always catch Shakespeare’s exquisite set up and timing of each of these incidences? Rothstein doesn’t miss a thing.

It is also TTT’s style to use minimal set pieces to create portable productions that can travel to audiences all over the Twin Cities. The performance is in-the-round, with small costume adjustments and crosses “backstage” all part of the action. Just eight actors recreate the charged environment constructed by two warring families: the high spirits of the Capulet’s party, the violent street fight, and the quiet safety of Friar Lawrence’s quarters. Live, percussive music (drums, chimes, cymbals, bell tree) punctuates scene changes and pivotal moments effectively.

There were so many fine performances. Regina Marie Williams oozes power as the prince, but mourning the violence that plagues the city. She also makes Lady Capulet a much more interesting character than the stiff and proper one we more typically see in this role.

Bob Davis is an impetuous Lord Capulet – the picture of privilege and self-absorption. Sometimes frightening and sometimes just a little nutty, with his giddy laugh and tossed-off lines, he’s also more complex than we might expect to see.

Dennis Spears plays the embittered Tybalt as a man Lord Capulet can’t even control; then he becomes the compassionate and steady Friar Lawrence, an interpretation I liked a lot.

Karen Wiese-Thompson has amazing chops playing character, dim-witted as a servant to Capulet and quintessentially good-hearted as the Nurse. She simply owned every gesture and line. Kurt Kwan also showed some nice versatility in a doofy servant role, and then as Romeo’s steady pal, Benvolio.

David Darrow pushed the role of Mercutio right to the edge, then deftly eased up, then pushed again – the “loose cannon” and the clown. Darrow, Kwan and Namir Smallwood as Romeo formed the trio that enlivens the play early on with their rakish shenanigans. Smallwood plays Romeo as the serious one, without the imagination or perspective of his pals. As much as his early scenes with Juliet (Anna Sundberg) were delightful, I never got the sense that he was truly connecting with Juliet in the way Sundberg was connecting with him. She was both youthful and wise, and strong without being impetuous. It was a refreshing portrayal.

The performance I saw was in a sun-filled, spacious room of the Heritage Park Senior Services Center in North Minneapolis. The public run of the play is Oct. 10–Nov. 7 at Open Book in downtown Minneapolis. Whether you only vaguely remember the film from ninth-grade English class, or you think you’ve seen it quite enough, see it again. This is a brand new play and it’s so wonderfully well done.

 

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