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'Romeo And Juliet' Get Stranded In Dorchester

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Julie Ann Earls and Jason Bowen in Actors' Shakespeare Project's "Romeo and Juliet" at the Strand Theatre. (Stratton McGrady Photography)
Julie Ann Earls and Jason Bowen in Actors' Shakespeare Project's "Romeo and Juliet" at the Strand Theatre. (Stratton McGrady Photography)

BOSTON – There’s much to admire about Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s support of the Strand Theatre in Dorchester. The nomadic troupe is returning to the theater that local activists and Mayor Menino wouldn’t let die and “Romeo and Juliet” with a mixed-race cast would seem to be the perfect choice.

Unfortunately, the Strand is not the kind of theater that brings out the best in the 10-year-old company. A misguided “Hamlet” in 2008 made you root for Claudius and while you don’t wish ill on the star-crossed lovers in “R&J,” you do kind of wish they’d get it over with in this production (through Nov. 3).

ASP’s formative idea was to bring together the best Shakespearean actors in the Boston area, but that is certainly not the case here. Paula Langton as the nurse and Maurice Emmanuel Parent as Mercutio are the only actors who bring a real spark to their roles, a sense that they’re speaking Elizabethan language as naturally as contemporary language. (Ken Baltin and Miranda Craigwell are fine as the age-inappropriate Capulets, as well, but those aren’t roles that lift an “R&J.”)

The rest of the cast pretty much flails. Romeo is not an easy role — it eludes many actors — but Jason Bowen doesn’t go much beyond recitation and a beatific smile. Julie Ann Earls at least brings some charisma to Juliet, but you would think with two directors, Allyn Burrows and Bobbie Steinbach, one of them could have switched her to decaf. When you italicize every word and illustrate every line with body language, it gets old quickly.

It’s an energetic production in general with even the Capulets and the nurse joining in the opening street fight, but it doesn’t maintain that Baz Luhrmann energy level. Burrows and Steinbach do a nice job of making the Strand more intimate by seating 80 audience members onstage, but it’s the acting that needs work. Burrows’ mentor at Shakespeare & Company, Tina Packer, knows all about getting more natural acting out of people and she’s up next for ASP with the rarely performed “Henry VIII.” Hopefully things will get back on track at the Modern Theatre in December.

This program aired on October 8, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Ed Siegel Twitter Critic-At-Large
Ed Siegel is critic-at-large for WBUR.