Review: Shakespeare Orange County’s Romeo & Juliet

SOC Romeo & Juliet

Rámon de Ocampo and his friends. All photos by Jordan Kubat

As an attempt to increase its cultural relevance, involve the community, and expand its audience base, Shakespeare Orange County’s Romeo & Juliet is an admirable venture. Directors Mike Peebler and John Walcutt have integrated several hometown groups to appeal to its neighboring communities: the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association, the 40-year-old folklórico group Relámpago del Cielo from Santa Ana, the Korean Social Club of Orange County, and students from the Orange County School of the Arts. 

The resulting effort is a broad mix of spectacle, modernism, lyrical art, and community theatre in which the parts don’t always add up to a natural whole. A gorgeous performance by Ramón de Ocampo as Romeo is wasted in what often feels like a high school production with a few parents thrown in to play the older roles for good measure. Much of the dialogue is unintelligible as cast members yell their way through the scenes, their energy tumbling out in all directions without focus, proper vocal support, or an understanding of where they fit into the overall vision of the play. Bo Foxworth gets away with it at times because his Mercutio is a drunken miscreant however the majority cannot. That includes a Juliet (beautiful Nikki SooHoo) who, despite a slew of television and film roles to her credit, has no idea what to do with the text.

Only de Ocampo and Jay Wallace, as Tybalt, are grounded enough to be able to communicate Shakespeare’s rich language with the kind of understanding that makes the playwright’s words soar. De Ocampo’s rapping Romeo is a comical lovesick young man who repeatedly gets tongue-tied under the spell of winged cupid’s bow. His ‘forward and retreat’ impulses make it easy to root for him because we understand that this is a new world, one he is not yet the master of.

Tybalt’s fight scenes, choreographed by Jeff Budner, are intense and realistically dangerous but adding countless ensemble members milling about in the background only serves to distract from the action. In the absence of a purpose, they simply stand around gazing out into the audience, talk amongst themselves blurring the scene’s intent, or shuffle back and forth pulling focus whether they mean to or not. It’s a weakness in the staging that runs throughout the show.

SOC Romeo & Juliet

Adding Relámpago del Cielo’s dance numbers to the party scenes wisely and successfully plays to the multicultural makeup of the audience. They also achieve the element of surprise in one very poignant sequence by using their choreography as a parallel storytelling device. Likewise, a lyrical duet by two elegant Korean dancers (Young Hye Son and Peter Gil Chang) is powerfully effective.

Ellen Dostal
Shakespeare in LA

ROMEO & JULIET
Through August 1, 2015
Shakespeare Orange County
Garden Grove Amphitheatre
12762 Main St, Garden Grove, CA 92840
www.shakespeareoc.org
Free parking is available on the street and in the city parking lot on Acacia Parkway one block west of Main St.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Review: Shakespeare Orange County’s Romeo & Juliet | The Shakespeare Standard

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