Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Romeo & Juliet

Jacob Ochsner as Benvolio and Nathan Dean Snyder as Romeo in Long Beach Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet

An unexpected jewel shines quietly in the background of Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Romeo & Juliet. He is young Jacob Ochsner, who plays Romeo’s cousin Benvolio, a role that may not have as much stage time as the title characters, nor contain the passionate verbal exchanges of the nephews of the houses of Capulet and Montague, but allows for an actor to remain focused on his own contrasting point of view. Though Benvolio’s efforts are ultimately unsuccessful, he remains constant in his attempts to keep the peace, and Ochsner understands his role. 

His command of the language is laudable and is delivered with an ease and natural flow that belies his young years. I believe we will see great things from him as his career develops. Ochsner’s scenes with Romeo (Nathan Dean Snyder) are naturally played, without affected flourish or overblown bravado, in contrast to some of the other men who seem more concerned with making the audience laugh than staying true to the essence of the scene. Humor does exist within the play but modern speech patterns often conflict with Helen Borgers’ otherwise traditional stylistic direction undercutting its effectiveness, as do characters that are hard to understand because of their tendency to drop the ends of phrases.

Snyder’s Romeo goes through the requisite range of emotions in the play and has some poignant moments but plays opposite a Juliet (Summer Blake) who fails to capture the brightest notes of a young girl on the verge of womanhood, full of the blush, wit and sparkle that is so endearing in the young. This is also the first time I’ve seen a production in which Lady Capulet (Rachel McVay) speaks to her daughter with outright contempt and actually seems to dislike her.

Luckily, Romeo & Juliet is a timeless, familiar love story, with fight sequences (choreographed by Snyder) that keep the action moving, and original music (by Edmund Velasco and Mike Austin) that captures the flavor of the period. Richard Lindsey’s functional set design allows for the intimate space to transform locations easily using little more than a swinging gate, balcony, and bench with trellis. Ashley Marquand’s costume design also breathes visual life into the period with color and texture.

Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Romeo & Juliet runs through April 1st at the Richard Goad Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90807. For tickets and more information go to www.LBShakespeare.org or call 562-997-1494.

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