A modern, moving take on those quintessential tragic young lovers awaits at the Calderwood Pavilion. Actors’ Shakespeare Project has mounted a cool, even funny, and undeniably heartbreaking version of Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET, directed by talented actress/director Marianna Bassham who has her finger on the pulse of Shakespeare’s lines and her cast’s youthful energy and sensibility. The look of the production is a contemporary everywhere, a multileveled set with nary a balcony in sight, but rather– neon lights and a solitary musician/sometime apothecary (Jesse Hinson) ensconced upstage with electric guitar, keyboard and requisite “poison.” The sound is engineered to evoke a landscape of mounting tension, dreamy love, and eons of turmoil.


The cast is exceptionally facile with Shakespeare’s meter, especially Esme Allen as a hilariously self-absorbed social climbing Lady Capulet, Paula Plum as Juliet’s no-nonsense, all -knowing Nurse, and Michael Broadhurst’s drug-addled thug-like Mercutio. Sandra Seonen-seri channels Tybalt’s lightning temper, scrapping for a crack at a Montague, especially Romeo. Artistic Director Christopher V. Edwards comes alive as Juliet’s enraged father Lord Capulet when he finally throws down the gauntlet and orders his daughter to marry Paris, a nondescript Peter Dimaggio.

Which brings me to the lovers. Evan Taylor captures Romeo’s naivete and outsized ardor as he abruptly deep-sixes his former love for Rosaline at his first glimpse of Juliet, the daughter of his family’s ancient enemy. Chloe McFarlane is initially not fully in command of her persona but her performance grows in the course of the play as she holds her Romeo at arms length while simultaneously unable to hold her own self back from kissing him one more time in a charming, balcony-less scene. There is remarkable tenderness here, their passion tempered by wonder and sweet inexperience.

But by the end of the play, we believe in their bond, tinged with the shadow of our knowing. We know what will befall these two, but the director raises our hopes yet again and drives the point home by orchestrating and an out-of-nowhere, eleventh-hour coda like a dagger of profound regret that made me ache all over again for what was lost, and might still be found. Suddenly all the world’s promise loomed against ancient squabbles as I looked upon the tragic tableau fading in the light onstage before me. DO NOT MISS Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s ROMEO AND JULIET at the BCA Calderwood Pavilion through JUNE 2!