Teenage dreams

Romeo & Juliet

<p><b>“Wait, this <i>isn’t</i> a remake of <i>Titanic</i>?”</b></p>

“Wait, this isn’t a remake of Titanic?”

Photo by Joy Strotz

Romeo and Juliet; 7:30 p.m. July 31 and August 2, 4 and 5; $15-$47. Warren Edward Trepp Stage at Sand Harbor State Park, 2005 Highway 28 in Incline Village, Nev.; laketahoeshakespeare.com. Through August 22.
Rated 4.0

Director Charles Fee retains Shakespeare’s Italian setting in this stylish production, but moves the time frame to the 1920s. Juliet (almost 14) wears skirts suggesting she might become a flapper; fiery Tybalt is a Fascist Black Shirt.

For this version of Romeo and Juliet, which alternates with The Fantasticks as part of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, the iconic story of teen-love-in-a-hurry is unchanged. And the landmark lines flash past (like “What’s in a name?” and “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”). These are phrases we still employ, 400 years on.

Actors Matt Schwader (Romeo) and Hillary Clemens (Juliet) married a year ago, perhaps that’s why their courtship scenes feel “right.” Clemens in particular invokes innocence and impatience. On the dramatic spectrum, director Fee goes for head-turning infatuation; there is no steamy bedroom scene. And when the lovers’ lives spin out of control, the desperate end comes quickly.

Among the memorable fatalities (so many in a Shakespeare tragedy), Jeffrey C. Hawkins (Mercutio) favors nimble wit. By contrast, darkly intense Dan Lawrence (Tybalt) speaks through his blade; for him, the words get in the way.

Mic Matarese (Lord Capulet) alternates between charm and fury; he decks the younger, stronger Tybalt (but this Capulet doesn’t beat his wife, as Philip Charles Sneed did in a shocking scene as Capulet at Tahoe some years back). Lynn Robert Berg’s Friar Laurence is political and realistic, his “go slow” advice is (of course) ignored. Juliet’s talkative Nurse (Laura Welsh Berg, spouse of the actor playing Friar Laurence) is more limber and cool-headed than usual in this part.

With professional actors in all of the major roles (more than a dozen Equity actors, many from Chicago and New York), and professional designers behind the costumes, set, and sound, this production is more handsome than Shakespeare shows we usually see close to home. There is dramatic use of orchestral music from California composer John Adams’ Harmonielehre—a 1985 score that, 30 years on, is increasingly thought of a 20th-century classic.