“Romeo & Juliet” lacks on-stage chemistry

Liana Hofer

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In order to pull off one of the greatest love stories ever told, the actors better have an awful lot of chemistry.

Despite their acting abilities, chemistry is something the main performers in The Acting Company’s performance of “Romeo & Juliet” had in short supply.

Separately, Alejandro Rodriguez and Kaliswa Brewster (who played Romeo and Juliet respectively) did an excellent job of bringing Shakespeare’s classic to life on the stage of CSUN’s Plaza del Sol Wednesday night, as did the rest of the ensemble.  Both had the acting chops it took to portray their characters’ complex mix of giddy joy and utter despair while apart.

Brewster was a convincing sweet and naïve Juliet, who despite her youth, has a remarkable amount of level-headedness.  It’s easy to forget that Juliet was only 13 in the story, but Brewster had the look of a young girl who could, and does, fall in love at the drop of a hat.

The slightly older Romeo, represented by the capable Rodriguez, was everything Romeo should be: serious, crazy and in love. His strongest moments were in the character’s anguish, such as Mercutio’s death scene when Rodriguez, for mere moments, drew every audience member up in his pain.

An on-stage couple, however, is only as strong as they appear when they are acting together.

Although we all know how the story ends, there should a sense that the audience is rooting for Romeo and Juliet; their attraction should be so palpable that people have a small hope that, magically, Juliet will wake up before Romeo swallows that poison.

As much as I hate to say this, I couldn’t have cared less.  The balcony scene, full of some of the most beautiful poetry ever written, felt so forced I was hoping the nurse would interrupt it sooner.

The problem is that taken at face-value, Romeo and Juliet nothing more than a well-written love story about two infatuated adolescents, blinded by lust

In order to experience the full tragedy of the story, the love between these two teenagers has to be raw and consuming.  The scenes Brewster and Rodriguez shared were filled with a few too many giggles and awkward hugs to make them a compelling couple.

Ultimately, it was the sideline actors that added the flavor the play needed.  The wild Mercutio, played by Sid Solomon, and the loquacious nurse, played by Elizabeth Stahlmann, both did their fair share of scene-stealing through their bold physicality.  I was almost out of breath for Solomon after watching him bound around the stage during his dream speech.

As an added twist to the original, the play took place during 1915 and included appropriate costume and music for the times.  My old-world heart was warmed during the party scene when some of the characters danced the Charleston.

Wisely, the set was kept basic with a large brick backdrop as the central focus, complete with the quintessential iron balcony.  While benches were brought on every so often, little had to be changed from scene to scene.

If nothing else, the performance on Wednesday night was a wonderful chance to hear Shakespeare’s text spoken aloud.  In a day and age when we can only remember as far back as our latest status update, it’s nice to be reminded that a man from Stratford once wrote words that are still being repeated on stages over 400 years later.