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Theater review: 'Romeo and Juliet' at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles

April 7, 2011 |  5:50 pm

SM3M0055 The noteworthy update of "Romeo and Juliet" at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles (formerly Shakespeare Festival/L.A.) brings agreeable imagination to this ever-popular romance between two besotted adolescents from warring families.

Setting the action in a community center in Los Angeles circa the Rodney King verdict riots, director Chris Anthony, who doubles as a tickling Nurse, angles the edited text toward our urban jungle. Scenic designer Akeime Mitterlehner creates a starkly industrial playing area, dominated by a striking street art mural on warehouse-door panels behind random scaffolding and towers, the appealing cast regrouping to the sides when switching roles.

Anthony's rethought characters and conversational approach largely carries her subtext -- individual actions can have communal consequences -- to fruition. Nic Few's introspective Romeo and Xochitl Romero's impetuous Juliet suggest eloquent fugitives from "My So-Called Life." Though their technical sophistication isn't exactly teen-like, both deliver the goods, with a hilarious balcony scene and affecting emotional choices as calamities multiply.

Caro Zeller imbues gender-switched Benvolia with tomboy fervor, émigré-accented Lady Capulet with understated dignity. Christopher Salazar exhibits similar range, whether resonant Prince, office-geek Paris or spontaneous Mercutio, his Queen Mab speech seemingly born on the spot. Luis Galindo bears chilling ire beneath Lord Capulet's bonhomie; Geoffrey Lower's crunchy-granola Friar Laurence might be a KPFK correspondent.

True, copious cuts give Salazar's Paris, Francisco Garcia's livewire Tybalt and Barbara Roberts' somber Montague less weight than their proficiency merits. This is a shortcoming -- the academic invention and episodic pace occasionally feels as implosive and truncated as Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film version. Nevertheless, novices and devotees alike should appreciate so acutely accessible an account.

-- David C. Nichols

"Romeo and Juliet," the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, 1238 W. 1st St., Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 17. $25-$30. (800) 838-3006 or Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Photo: Xochitl Romero as Juliet and Nic Few as Romeo. Credit: Michael Lamont