Romeo & Juliet — Image courtesy Ten Thousand Things

Romeo & Juliet

Ten Thousand Things
Directed by Peter Rothstein

One of the most notable aspects of Ten Thousand Things‘s current production of Romeo & Juliet is the extent to which it gives its actors absolutely nowhere to hide. As per usual, the company performs with the lights on, in close quarters with the audience, in simple costumes amidst even simpler sets. The players are mostly in modern dress, but there is no contemporizing gimmick; the Montagues and Capulets are not rival street gangs or Mafia syndicates or political parties, just aristocratic families with interlocking grudges like Shakespeare intended. And the play itself is, of course, one of the most familiar in the English-language canon, removing the element of novelty while inviting inevitable comparisons to other performances.

Romeo & Juliet — Image courtesy Ten Thousand ThingsTen Thousand Things’s actors are largely up to the challenge, turning in a heartfelt rendition of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. The high points tend to be the moments of greatest emotional intensity — Romeo and Juliet’s first encounter at the Capulet ball, Juliet’s parents’ discovery of their daughter’s apparently lifeless body, and the lovers’ successive suicides among them — in which the immediacy of the company’s approach pays off the most. Bob Davis is a particular standout as Capulet, putting the spotlight on the character’s transition from calm rationality to impulsive passion as things escalate. David Darrow as Mercutio and Karen Wiese-Thompson as Juliet’s nurse also give memorable takes on their characters, effectively balancing occasional hammy humor with pathos.

As for Romeo and Juliet themselves, while there is always something a little incongruous about seeing these characters portrayed by adults — as they are just so obviously teenagers, ruled by adolescent passions and full of naïve idealism — Namir Smallwood and Anna Sundberg do a valiant job. Their young lovers come across as primarily feeling rather than thinking beings, which may be why the famous balcony scene, in which they process their feelings and negotiate their marriage, seems less central and more like a plot device than usual. Though not always what we have come to expect, it’s a cogent interpretation, and Smallwood and Sundberg do it justice.

Ten Thousand Things can generally be counted on to make the familiar just a little unfamiliar, and their intimate, stripped-down take on Romeo & Juliet does not disappoint. Performances continue at Open Book, the Minnesota Opera Center, and several community facilities through Nov. 2.

Photos by Paula Keller

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.