Review: Media Theatre brings classic ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to life with talented, multi-generational cast

By Margie Royal

Although Media Theatre is known mostly for its high-quality productions of musicals, in recent years they have dedicated the January-February slot in their season to non-musical productions. Usually these productions are classics that  give their students a chance to be part of a non-musical work — and give the community a chance to bring their children to a powerful dramatic work.

This year, Media Theatre is staging Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, directed and smartly trimmed down to a two-an-half hour run time by Bill Van Horn.

Although I have said this production showcases many of Media Theatre School’s students past and present, don’t be misled — this is not a student production. The stage is full of seasoned professional actors, with current Media students as understudies or part of the youthful ensemble. It’s a wonderful opportunity for Media’s current students to learn how a cast of veterans prepares to perform. And, I am sure that youths being taken to see the show by their parents will appreciate seeing the many youthful faces on stage.

“Romeo and Juliet” is tough material to perform. Shakespeare’s phrasings of the English language can be difficult to follow, and the challenge for actors is to first understand the thought and intention in the speech, and then find the right delivery so that the audience can also understand and follow it. At times, some of the speeches delivered by the less-seasoned actors were too rushed, which made it difficult to know what they were saying. I expect  this will improve: I saw the show on opening night and chalked some of it up to the younger performers dealing with opening night nerves and a full-house in the audience watching them.

Lexi Gwynn and Brandon O’Rourke, as Juliet and Romeo, are appealing leads. Gwynn beautifully captures Juliet’s romantic nature and strength of character, and O’Rourke is an impetuous but sweet-natured Romeo. Susan Wefel creates a nuanced portrait of the earthy nurse, and brings welcome comedy to Shakespeare’s tragedy.

Lexi Gwynn (Juliet) with The Nurse (Susan Wefel)

Anthony Marsala and Hillary Parker are terrific as Lord and Lady Capulet. Grant Struble is commanding as Prince Escalas and John Morrison creates a likable and kindly Friar Laurence.
Michael Fuchs brings to life a dignified Lord Montague, and also plays the Apothecary. Marissa Barnathan is featured as Montague’s young wife.
Others in the cast are Luke Brahdt as Benvolio, Leighton Samuel as Tybalt, Nick Parker as Mercutio, Geoffrey Bruen as Paris, Gavin Whitt as Abraham, Thomas Lock as Sampson with Nicholas Saverine in multiple roles. The ensemble features talented Media students Hannah Brannau, Gigi Furlan and Josiah Jacoby.
Matthew Miller’s set has arched walls with upper story windows surrounding an open forum. There’s scaffolding up around the walls, to suggest repairs are being made to the structure. Although I get the symbolism, I felt at times the scaffolding got in the way, particularly in the balcony scene. I would rather have seen Juliet appear in one of the windows than watch her climb the scaffolding before playing that powerful scene.

Jennifer Povish’s costuming doesn’t set the play in any specific time period. The modern dress she has Juliet wear for the Capulet party scene is lovely; however, the choice of having Juliet open Act II dressed like Amelia Earhart is odd. Steven Spera lights the action well but I would have liked to see more of a romantic moonlight effect for the balcony scene.

But these are minor quibbles. There’s a lot to like in Media’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” which plays through Feb. 19. Go see it, and then help the theatre continue their artistic and educational work by attending their “Star Struck” gala on Saturday, Feb. 25.
If you go: “Romeo and Juliet” runs through Feb. 19 at The Media Theatre. Reserve seats early, particularly for school groups. For tickets and information, call 610-891-0100 or visit mediatheatre.org.