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[whitespace] Tony Panighetti, Eve Cohen Youth Movement: Romeo (Tony Panighetti) and Juliet (Eve Cohen) try again to find true love everlasting.

Eager to Please

New Theatre on San Pedro Square adds new music to old favorite 'Romeo & Juliet'

By Heather Zimmerman

SUMMER HAS VIRTUALLY become the season for Shakespeare; in particular, it seems like an apt time of year for a play like Romeo & Juliet, which turns so much on the impetuousness and passion of youth.

And here, at the beginning of summer, an ambitious new musical version of Shakespeare's classic tragedy, with an original score by local composer Ed Goldfarb, gets its world premiere as the first-ever production of a new theater company in downtown San Jose, Theatre on San Pedro Square. With this production, the company also inaugurates a newly renovated theater (a comfortable, intimate space, by the way).

Caught up in their passion, Romeo and Juliet made some rash choices. Unfortunately, perhaps that's why the tale of these famously doomed lovers proves a little too appropriate to this production. Overall, Theatre on San Pedro Square's Romeo & Juliet resembles a teen suitor: overeager to impress. Everything becomes secondary to the production's newness and originality, as if belaboring these points will keep audiences coming back.

Focusing on the strengths of the existing talents on the stage would have been enough to accomplish that, because the company, in individual respects, is far from inexperienced. The cast is rounded out nicely with a number of Bay Area theater veterans, including director and company founder Gary de Mattei.

But taken as a whole, the company is green yet, and this production is troubled. To start with, Goldfarb's score proves uneven. Its bright, ambling funk-jazz captures the exuberance of the young lovers, and a few songs are truly inspired, in particular Friar Laurence's (James Monroe Iglehart) rousing gospel-influenced sermon, "The Green-Eyed Morn."

Goldfarb, however, doesn't balance his score with anything edgy enough for the play's somber moments. The music can be intrusive because it's so incongruously cheerful in some scenes: when the prince decrees that further fighting in Verona will lead to the death penalty, the music implies that he's announcing some mere trifle.

The music drowns out Shakespeare's poetry as often as it complements it, often because it's simply too loud. In spite of using microphones, the actors strain to be heard during some songs. (And there's a lot of adjustment still needed with the microphones themselves. Screeching feedback doesn't exactly set the mood for Romeo and Juliet's first kiss.)

Likewise, de Mattei has turned up the volume on the performances, particularly for the supporting characters, as high as it will go. The worst casualty is Capulet (Lee Kopp), whose perceptible complacence with his own power throughout the play is at odds with the scene in which, incensed by Juliet's refusal to marry his choice of husband for her, he beats up on Juliet, her nurse and his wife. His unprecedented viciousness seems designed more for shock value than any insight into the character.

Similarly, in the span of one scene, Lady Capulet (Dyan McBride) transforms from a controlled, elegant noblewoman to a slatternly drunk. If all the pretensions of this Veronese household are supposed to fall apart in the second act, it works--too well.

Thankfully, there's not much meddling that can be done with the characters of Romeo and Juliet, and Tony Panighetti and Eve Cohen are quite winning as the lovers. Together, they capture both the youthful vibrancy and intense emotion of the characters.

The most tragic aspect of Romeo & Juliet has always been the squandered potential of the two youths; among other things, of course, whether they might have united their families is left forever unknown. The great potential wasted in this production is certainly frustrating, but I hope that it may yet begin to be realized in other shows during the company's season. The Theatre on San Pedro Square could take a lesson from Juliet's hot-headed cousin, Tybalt: It doesn't always pay to be out to prove something.

Romeo & Juliet--A Most Excellent Tragedy plays Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through July 23 at the Theatre on San Pedro Square, 29 N. San Pedro St., San Jose. Tickets are $25-$40. (408.283.0200)

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From the June 29-July 5, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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