Friday, April 11, 2014

Love? Come, Go With Me EXTENDED

Nikhil Pai and Erika Soto 

Photo Credit:  Grettel Cortes

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s most available and popular tragic romance is summed up immediately in the prologue of the Independent Shakespeare Company’s current production in Atwater.  The entire cast appears, sharing the prologue; visibly shocked that the story does not end well as related in Shakespeare’s lovely opening sonnet:  “Two Houses, both alike in dignity..."

After lauding the talent and skills of Bristol Old Vic Company’s Midsummer Night’s Dream recently at The Broad, I must retreat and say that to find myself in plastic chairs and a simple playing space with this ISC cast of excellent and culturally diverse and talented Americans, that under these right circumstances, the Bard comes off Aces.  We cut immediately to the chase, eliminating the opening of the fight (no thumb biting here)  that gets the Prince’s (Xavier J. Watson who doubles as a foppish Paris) dander up.  We meet a female Benvolio (lithe Lovelle Liquigan doubling as Lady Capulet), Romeo’s confidant and pal.  No worries about how the Montegues find out about the Capulet’s soiree, we get right to the point with tres gai Mercrutio (doubling Lord Capulet joyful Andrè Martin) who encourages Romeo (excellent Nikhil Pai)  to crash the party.  Quickly is Rosaline forgotten and in the lovers’ meeting we find love at first sight with familiar lines spoken with conviction. Just charming. “Let lips do what hands do…”

Bawd(y!) Nurse (profound Bernadette Sullivan) goes to bat for Juliet (wonderful Erika Soto) remembering how she would bet fourteen teeth that she knew her charge’s birth within an hour (sadly says she, she only has four). She broadly proclaims her loyalty and love full voice.  This energy from every member of the cast was impressive.

Fantastic doubling as Friar Lawrence and Tybalt, Evan Lewis Smith commands the stage with his voice and presence.  The sword play here with Mercrutio is at once comic and frightening.  This is a highlight of the show as often there is too much care in stage combat. Even with the audience only six feet away, the actors do not flinch, but thrust and parry as Romeo attempts to stop the melee.  Mercrutio is struck under Romeo’s arm. ‘Find me tomorrow and you will find me a grave man,’ he says, condemning everyone and expires.  Romeo’s brief bout then brings Tybalt to his end skillfully without flair. 

To the credit of director Melissa Chalsma, there is no attempt at accents. It’s an American production in a tiny space with limited tech (though adequate) mounted beautifully.  Shakespeare’s Wooden “O” probably had about the same amount of technical support, allowing the words and the story to carry the day.  Designer Cat Sowa’s wooden back wall with one black curtain, a ladder and a sturdy table are all that Chalsma needs to bring her actors up to speed. Daniel Mahler’s costumes work just fine.  Kevin Rico Angulo (Lord Montague and Friar John) rounds out the cast.

It is rare to see such committed energy in a simple studio setting. The recent failure of Macbeth at A Noise Within, with their expensive professional space, costumes and lighting did not succeed because the dedication of the actors and the director were somehow sidetracked.  It is the abundant energy that the ISC ensemble brings to their tiny space that makes the play work.  I loved this production because the actors never tarried in their quest.  They whittled the text carefully, still allowing it to breathe while skillfully bringing it to life.  We buy the story because it is, after all…  Romeo and Juliet, for goodness sakes!  Creative dance movement and handling of the simple props draws the audience in and includes us as part of the drama.  The fourth wall comes and goes gently with purpose.  Who else to hear a soliloquy but the audience?

It’s an efficient evening (two swift acts) that makes one truly appreciate the beauty of the words. The words and the excellent skills of the cast are all reasons that one must see this production. It is not to be missed.  

By William Shakespeare
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30PM
Sunday at 2PM
April 11 through May 25, 2014
The Independent Shakespeare Company
3191 Casitas Avenue  #168
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Tickets and Information: 818 710 6306

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