by Hugh Hunter
Quintessence opened its season with a stunning production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Using the same fine troop of actors, “Romeo” will run in rotating repertory with Machiavelli’s “The Mandrake.”
After 400 years, “Romeo” still shines brightly, the world’s foremost paean to romantic love. The acting performances in this show are striking, while Director Alexander Burns mixes in a variety of imaginative elements but never crosses the line into freakishness.
Connor Hammond stars as ill-fated Romeo. His slight, youthful figure contrasts with the clear vigor of his elocution and the dramatic energy of his stage movement. In just a few days we see Romeo change from whining adolescent into a mature lover, partly because he is so splendidly goaded by Mercutio.
As Mercutio, Alan Brincks delivers a stupendous rendition of the famous Queen Mab soliloquy, wriggling all over the stage in hilarious mockery of Romeo’s infatuation with Rosaline. Mercutio is such a powerful figure, many have observed that Shakespeare had to kill him off, or he would dominate the play. And it is with his death that the play turns tragic.
As Juliet, Emiley Kiser is so fresh-faced she easily passes for a young teenager. She warns Romeo about their love “…too rash, too unadvised, too sudden.” Yet she also delivers one of the great odes to love “…my bounty is as boundless as the sea…”
E. Ashley Izard is wonderfully self-assured and comical as Juliet’s nurse, and Josh Carpenter superbly assumes two entirely different personas in the roles of hot-blooded Tybalt and the haplessly earnest Friar Laurence.
In fact, all the actors play multiple roles, and costume design helps keep them distinct (Jane Casanave). In the role of Juliet’s angry, paternalistic father, Gregory Isaac sometimes scares the pants off you (figuratively speaking, of course). Rounding out the cast are Anita Holland (Lady Capulet), Jahzeer Terrell (Benvolio) and Sean Close (Paris).
The eye-catching choreography of Kaki Burns in both the opening choral sequence and at the Capulets’ ball captures the tragic confusion of relationships between the two families. The same is true of Director Burns’ decision to overlap certain scene sequences.
All night the light design (David Sexton) and sound design (composer, Steven Cahill) dramatically underscore the shifting moods. And the fight scene between Mercutio and Tybalt is magnificent (fight director Ian Rose). You feel glad you do not have to fight either one of them!
The Quintessence show is a true spectacle. There is no “tragic flaw” in either Romeo or Juliet. If there is a villain, it is the mindless feuding of two powerful families. Fate triumphs over these “star-crossed” lovers, and after four centuries it is still heart-breaking to hear Juliet cry out “…that heaven should practice strategies/upon so soft a subject as myself.”
Quintessence is located at 7137 Germantown Ave. “Romeo and Juliet” will run through Nov 7. For reservations call 215-987-4450.