Happy Medium’s ROMEO AND JULIET (at the BCA through Aug. 25th) has two things which make it stand out from countless others: Director Paula Plum and the astonishing performance of Johnnie L. McQuarley as Romeo. He thrilled in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA earlier this year and here he makes the hot blooded and ill advised teenager a revelation.
Plum’s actors (a mix of her acting students, promising newcomers and professional veterans) make you pay attention to secondary and tertiary characters that, in most productions, would melt into the background or merely serve to move the play along. Case in point: William Schuller’s apothecary (whom Romeo approaches to buy an illegal drug) and Arthur Waldstein as the utilitarian priest, Friar Lawrence. I never fully realized before that the apothecary has a story, too, and I’ve certainly never seen such a horrified friar, stricken over his part in the tragedy.
Sharon Squires, a veteran of the famous Roxbury Outreach Shakespeare Experience, injects gravitas into her small but memorable role as Romeo’s despairing mother. Angie Jepson’s fight sequences electrify the production with realistic hand to hand combat and chilling death scenes for Michael Underhill as Tybalt, Joey Pelletier as Mercutio and Jesse Wood as Paris. Kiki Samko makes a formidable Prince and an alluring dancer at the ball where Romeo first sees Juliet (a demure Lauren Elias).
Some of the Happy Medium performers resort to shouting (which swallows up the lines so much that they’re useless) and others seem to be underplaying their roles, relying on a wing and a prayer to get the gist across. Nevertheless, this R&J is plenty energetic and well worth the visit to see a performer like McQuarley command the stage.