All you Shakespeare phobics can relax. Santa Monica’s Morgan-Wixson Theatre has taken the Bard’s famed “Romeo and Juliet” and reworked it to allow the audience to make the key decisions (even the ending) – all the while largely abandoning Shakespearean couplets, adding hilarious comic jibes, and changing the course of the entire story. For this version of ROMEO AND JULIET is written not by the Divine Will – but by playwrights Ann Fraistat and Shawn Fraistat. Tragedy easily morphs into comedy as the rambunctious audience puts in their two cents while frantically waving flags and shouting opinions.
The first question in this parody frames the rest of the production: who is Romeo’s true love? Juliet or Rosaline? In fact, the play has eight different directions it can go – all determined by the viewers. Given the multiple plot lines, the ensemble cast was required to rehearse for these eight different eventualities – never knowing which they would be called upon to deliver on any one evening. If this sounds confusing, imagine the actors as they prepared for anything and everything.
Five key ROMEO AND JULIET characters always play the same role, including Romeo (Kalond Irlanda), Juliet (Mirai), Lady Capulet (Melodie S. Rivers), Mercutio (Damian Luciano), and Benvolio (Javon Willis). Meanwhile, double cast Ariella Salinas Fiore and Natalie Kahn tackle Nurse-Lady Montague-Friar John-lady, while Garret Kinstler gets to portray Tybalt-Paris-Prince and Kirsten Helen Hansen essays Rosaline-Friar John. Depending on the version of the moment, some of these characters never see the light of day. One of Shakespeare’s plot staples was one character taking on the persona of another – but it is doubtful that he foresaw the Fraistats’ lampoon.
Getting back to the story, which is difficult to summarize given so many possibilities. Yes, Virginia, there is a Romeo. On occasion, there is also a Juliet…depending. Otherwise, the tale dances hither and yon with some of the funniest actors around. The lines are hysterical – but the nonverbal glances and shrugs are even better. This is a troupe made for mockery – always respectful, but always right on point. Kudos to director T. S. Barrios, who must have had a barrel of laughs walking the actors through this cornucopia of fun. Happily, the ensemble has seamless chemistry which transcends words and actions – and makes this production very special.
ROMEO AND JULIET, A COMEDY is very funny indeed and often makes sidesplitting gaffes which only endear it even more to the laughing, always involved and entertained audience. Marlee Candell’s costumes are both motley and ideal for the show. Hollister Starrett’s sound and Aiden Mella’s lighting work well, especially considering that no one is sure what will happen next. And get ready for Joel D. Castro’s fight choreography. After all, what is ROMEO AND JULIET without some swinging swordplay? Especially with two left feet? Don’t miss this charming, uproarious, and highly entertaining production.
ROMEO AND JULIET, A COMEDY runs through August 28, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Morgan Wixson Theatre is located at 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors, military, and students; there are also special group rates. For information and reservations, call 310-828-7579.