Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: Curio Theatre Company's "Romeo and Juliet"

Every theatre season brings with it new interpretations of Shakespeare’s timeless plays. Curio Theater Company got a head start on this year’s selections from the Bard with their season opener, Romeo and Juliet, casting two women as the star-crossed lovers. I caught the October 12th performance, the cast’s second official performance of their month-long run.

Director Krista Apple-Hodge changes little of the original text in this particular adaptation. Pronouns are changed to reflect the fact that Romeo and Tybalt are now women and much of Lord Capulet’s dialogue is given to Aetna Gallagher’s Lady Capulet. Curio’s dedication to keeping the original text in tact doesn’t always work for this particular production. It’s set in this not-quite-modern world where women lead their family’s violent gangs and no one questions or criticizes Romeo and Juliet’s same-sex marriage. The premise of the production requires the audience to take a pretty big leap of faith, and left me with a great deal of questions. It seems as though the production sought out to deal with issues of gender and sexuality that the original text was not cut out to address.

Despite the production’s shaky foundation, the performances are fantastic. Rachel Gluck and Isa St. Clair have great chemistry as Romeo and Juliet respectively. Eric Scotolati is particularly exceptional as the witty and wild Mercutio. The entire cast brings a youthful energy to the show often missing in Philadelphia theatre. They all work so well together, achieving Curio’s goal of creating great ensemble theatre.

Curio is housed in a turn-of-the-century American Protestant church in West Philadelphia, with beautiful stained-glass windows and high ceilings. It’s the perfect setting for this play, making the scenes in the church and tomb even more powerful.   The building, however, wasn’t quite built for theatre, and the acoustics of the space are a little wonky. The choices of music are often questionable, particularly when they try to mix Eric Whitacre’s haunting choral piece “Lux Aurumque” with house beats. The lighting and costumes are pretty basic, just doing what they need to do to tell the story.

Despite it’s faults, Curio’s Romeo and Juliet makes for a fun night at the theatre. It’s an interesting take on the story we all know so well, which is refreshing in a culture obsessed with this particular play. These young theatre artists have a lot to offer the Philadelphia theatre scene. If this production is any indication of their talents, I’m looking forward to what the folks at Curio will come up with next.

Romeo and Juliet runs through November 2nd at Curio Theatre Company, 4740 Baltimore Ave. Tickets are $20 with a valid student ID. For more information, visit