Any troupe performing a classic this well-known faces our intimate familiarity with the characters and material and the enormity of our expectations. Shakespeare's romantic tragedy is a delicate work that uses action and humor to relay a tale of swooning, head-over-heels love and, ultimately, sorrow.
Michael Nehring's staging is fairly compact and well-paced, and its general outlines are where they should be. What dooms it is the casting of Amanda Zarr as Juliet and, to a lesser extent, Alex Schemmer as Romeo. At first they simply seem to be what history told us they were: a couple of impetuous kids. But the way Zarr and Schemmer limn their characters does too little to build tension and dread within us. Zarr delivers on Juliet's youthful ardor, but her almost perpetually tearful voice constricts the role's range. Schemmer's rash Romeo fares a bit better but still comes across as far too overwrought. Where Elizabethan acting requires subtlety, this pair performs as though in a potboiler. Exceptions are their sweet first meeting and a surprisingly comedic balcony scene.
As a cold, abrasive Lady Capulet, Sarah Boughton seems to have been infected by their style. Thankfully, nearly everyone surrounding this trio understands his or her role and function within the story, offering glorious, nicely shaded work. Viewers can revel in the acting of Tamiko Washington, Jack Messenger, and Jeremy Schaeg. Using a low British dialect, Washington's Nurse encompasses high comedy and stark shock over the grim turn of events. A forceful Capulet, Messenger has the weighty authority of a man accustomed to wielding power and, when Juliet rebels, unbridled fury. Schaeg's Tybalt is a lethal cobra who strikes with no mercy. John Benitz's empathic Friar Laurence; West Liang's playful, loyal Mercutio; Nick Lawson's dapper little Paris; Michael D. Fountain's put-upon Peter; and Craig Brown's regal Escalus impress.
Presented by Shakespeare Orange County at the Festival Amphitheatre,
12740 Main St., Garden Grove.
Thu.-Sat. 8:15 p.m. Aug. 9-25.
(714) 744-7016. www.shakespeareoc.org.