Passions run high in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’

From left: Conor Sheehan (Romeo) and Natasha Renae Potts (Juliet) in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s “Romeo and Juliet” (Photo by Taylor Leach)

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that teenagers’ excess leads to mistakes: “They overdo everything – they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything else.” He might have been talking about the young adults wreaking havoc in a William Shakespeare play written 2,000 years later. 

In Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s (LBSC) streaming production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” gamely directed by Brando Cutts, passions run amok – love, lust, anger, vengeance, tormented sorrow and impetuous action. The younger generation stands apart from the older in not listening or thinking, behaving boldly and rashly, disrespecting their elders and ultimately paying steep prices. 

What could be more fun to watch?

It helps that the two leads – Conor Sheehan as Romeo Montague and Natasha Renae Potts as 14-year-old Juliet Capulet – not only capture the nearly insane impulsive qualities of youth but have really good chemistry. Falling in everlasting love faster than it takes to watch a Tik Tok video, the comely pair almost get away with their plan of eloping and living happily ever after.

But there are other passions at work – namely, the fierce hatred simmering between the younger members of the Montague and Capulet families, prone to impromptu and sometimes bloody swordfights in the streets of Verona (orchestrated by Mikael Mattsson, who also plays Benvolio, Romeo’s cousin). 

From left: Mikael Mattsson (Benvolio), Maroon Stranger (Mercutio) and Conor Sheehan (Romeo) in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s “Romeo and Juliet” (Photo by Taylor Leach) 

Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (a robust Roberto Williams) especially has it in for Romeo, engaging Romeo’s friend Mercutio (a strident Maroon Stranger) in a fatal swordfight that causes events to roll inevitably – because there’s not a lot of stopping and thinking here amid swells of emotion – toward an agonizing conclusion.

But because of the very committed and talented cast, we are drawn deeply into these characters’ plights, caught up in Juliet’s tortured loyalties, Romeo’s love-sick resolve and even sympathizing with Juliet’s father (Jonah Goger) when he brutally insists she marry the noble Paris (Nick Napoli), threatening to disown her if she does not. 

From left: Jonah Goger (Lord Capulet) and Nick Napoli (Paris) in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s “Romeo and Juliet” (Photo by Taylor Leach) 

Supporting cast members do well, including the Juliet’s somewhat remote mother (the well-cast Andrea Stradling), Cutts as the marrying minister who also provides poison and the ruling prince (Alexander Pait), who speaks especially clearly. 

While all the actors express the beauty of Shakespeare’s words well, it helps to have video captions on as the sound sometimes dips, and the sword-fighting music comes across a little tinny. Though the camera occasionally misses the mark, it conveys the pageantry of live theatre, with fine period costuming (Ramzi Jneid) and creative staging (Zachary Garabedian). 

The standout here is Potts as Juliet, embodying the excitement and naivety of a girl in the throes of first love but torn by family loyalty. We feel her teenage defiance, anxiety, hope and determination. It’s also amusing to see her young person’s agony trying to get aging nursemaid (an actually vivacious Yvonne Robertson) to reveal what Romeo said as the elder woman groans about her aches and pains.  

 Natasha Renae Potts (Juliet) in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s “Romeo and Juliet” (Photo by Taylor Leach) 

Overall, “Romeo and Juliet” offers a highly entertaining diversion as we wait patiently for our COVID-19 shots. If only patience were an option for these likeable characters, they would listen to each other more. But then we wouldn’t experience the cathartic poignancy of this play, brought to life in LBSC’s well-paced and well-acted production. 

LBSC’s “Romeo and Juliet” streams through March 28 for a per household price of $35. Tickets available at LBShakespeare.org.

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