Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Romeo et al.

June 01, 2007

Joy Osmanski as Juliet and Deborah Strang as the Nurse
Photo: Craig Schwartz/ANW 2007
I’ve been neglecting to comment on the final production of A Noise Within’s spring season, Romeo and Juliet, which I saw last weekend. In part this is due to the fact that this is not my favorite Shakespeare play by a long shot. The only time I’ve ever found it the least bit engaging was Gounod’s operatic take on the text when LA Opera mounted it in 2005 with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon. Which may say more about the cast than the play itself – in a convincingly acted performance with two talents of this caliber suddenly the play seemed to work on some level. It may not be that I dislike the play so much as that I just haven't met the right production yet. (I suspect this gets under the skin of all you Netrebko-haters out there. Face it, people eagerly pay to see her for a reason other than her looks. So get over yourselves already.)

ANW pulled out all the stops for this big cast extravaganza of a production under the direction of Michael Murray. No expense was spared in the action department either as fight director Ken Merckx (cast as Tybalt) went full-tilt with some fairly convincing fight scenes. The set design was minimal leaving the focus on the cast who were in period costume appropriate for its 1930s coastal Italy update. Of course I couldn’t quite figure out how Tybalt and Paris got into the coastal Italian branch of the German SS, but some things are better left unknown. The leads were Joy Osmanski as Juliet and Steve Coombs returning to local stages as Romeo. Coombs was decidedly more clothed here than in his appearance in The Picture of Dorian Gray at Boston Court Theater last year. But since he is young and the director has a convenient excuse for him to take his shirt off, I suppose it could make him a little more convincing as a young man in love. However, all the abs in the world couldn't prevent his, or Ms. Osmanski’s, performances from being as stiff as a board. (Ms. Netrebko and Mr. Villazon may be "hot" for sex-starved opera audiences, but there are thousands far more attractive wannabes in LA who can't generate one iota of the emotion either of them can with the power of their voices.)

The real stars here are J. Todd Adams’ as Mercutio, Mark Bramhall’s Friar Lawrence, and Deborah Strang as the Nurse. These long time ANW collaborators proved their weight in gold once again capturing the stage throughout the evening. Strang continues to be one of the greatest treasures of the local theater scene here in LA and her performance as the Nurse here makes it clear why. These three performances alone made the production worthwhile and argue for why A Noise Within continues to provide some of the best and most enjoyable theater evenings in town. ANW has announced its 2007-2008 season which will include The Winter's Tale, Henry IV Part I, and Night of the Iguana which you can read more about here.


Hey, I saw a fantastic R&J in Ashland a few years ago--The jaded festival audiences were teary, I actually heard honest-to-god sobbing at the end. The setting was contemporary, the "Two houses" were fashion houses and the hot young men were hot. Like, model-hot. Did you not see that one?
As a matter of fact, I did and would certainly agree that it was preferable. In fact, I'm rather looking forward to seeing this year's R&J as well considering that it will be directed by the festival's incoming artistic director Bill Rausch.
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