William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is like catnip for theater lovers, as its story of star-crossed lovers is both romantic and tragic. The different ways in which it’s been told through the centuries are too numerous to list, but it endures because of its malleability.
The play shows its flexibility yet again with Dallas Theater Center’s modern interpretation, playing at Kalita Humphreys Theater through February 28. However, even though Romeo (Jake Horowitz), Juliet (Kerry Warren), and their family and friends have been transported to modern times, Shakespeare’s language remains, providing purists with a foothold amid non-traditional settings.
Director Joel Ferrell and his team make the immediately engrossing decision to start at the end, as other characters wrestle with their emotions in the immediate aftermath of the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. This is a manipulation often used in television and movies, but less so in the usually linear world of theater.
The scene sets the tone for the whole production, leading to a boisterous first act. For those not practiced in Shakespearean verse, the dialogue can often be difficult to follow. However, the intonations used by many of the actors, as well as the actions they use to accompany their words, often provide more than enough meaning to cut through the dense script.
This is epitomized in a randy pool hall scene involving Romeo, Mercutio (Drew Foster), and Benvolio (Clinton Greenspan). The three of them use their pool cues, the pool table, and each other to illustrate the sexual nature of their conversation, leaving little to the imagination even if you don’t understand a single word they’re saying.
Also helping the production is a clever set involving a circular, rotating stage that allows for smooth transitions between scenes. Romeo’s father (Sam Henderson), Juliet’s father (Chris Hury), Juliet’s nurse (Liz Mikel), and Friar Lawrence (Christie Vela) are seated onstage throughout most of the play, circling with the set, almost as if they are judging the rash decisions Romeo, Juliet, and others make.
Horowitz and Warren make for attractive, if less-than-compelling, title characters. This has less to do with their performances than those of actors like Hury and Foster, who imbue their lines with such force that they’re difficult to resist. Also great are DTC veterans Mikel and Vela, whose characters could be considered the instigators of the entire plot.
Whether you’ve seen Romeo and Juliet many times before, or you are coming to the material fresh, Dallas Theater Center’s rendition deserves to be seen.