Hawley Anderson starts with a decent idea. She takes elements of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and twists them into a modern fated romance set in Middle America about a liberal Muslim boy of Indian descent and a conservative white girl from a military family. But the concept is buried beneath a mountain of clichéd dialogue, as well as sloppy, confusing direction, less-than-average acting, and a set that serves the story poorly.
Anderson's Jules (Juliana Moreno) is a high school student in Kansas City, Mo. Her dad (Robin Stuart) died while serving in the Gulf War, and her brother Sam (Jonathan Weber) signs up after high school graduation to serve in the Iraq War. Jules falls for Rahim, a Muslim, who is protesting the war. Jules' other brother, Ty (Christopher Goss), hates Rahim (Ajay Kasar), and Ty's girlfriend, Rosie (Jessica Plotin), warns Jules to end things before something bad happens.
The main problem is that Anderson attempts to fuse the writing of the Bard and David Mamet, and the result is dialogue dominated by clunky poetry and cursing. Almost every few seconds someone utters at least one swear word, way beyond the point of distraction. Most of the few nonswear lines are unintentionally funny. A typical example is, "You're playing with matches, Jules, and everyone is going to get burned." Characters fly into rages without enough motivation. Also, Anderson woefully underestimates the intelligence of teens, and they wind up sounding particularly—and needlessly—idiotic.
Because of the weak writing and Davin Palmer's heavy-handed direction, it's challenging to recognize the talent level of the performers. Only Moreno occasionally moves beyond the insipid lines to offer glimpses of humanity and honest emotion. The remaining actors spend most of the time shouting and stamping their feet. Except for Palmer's strong fight choreography, he seems lost. At one point, when a soldier arrives with a flag to tell the family that Sam has died, Jules and Ty enter, see the solider, and laugh innocently, despite that as military children they would know exactly why he was there.
Almost none of the pieces to Jules fit as they should. Perhaps Anderson and company can take her idea and start again at the beginning.
Presented by Clubred Productions at and in association with the Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. (Sun. 2 p.m. Feb. 25 only.) Jan. 27-Mar. 4. (323) 960-7782. www.promenadeplayhouse.com.