Romeo and Juliet -- At the Folger through August 2.
The balcony scene is a scream. That moony Romeo nearly kills himself climbing around to kiss his flaky Juliet, and both of them are so besotted with pubescent romance that they hardly know what they're doing, let alone how awkward and funny they look.
The dueling scene is also a riot. Mercutio dances about, imitating and taunting the pretentious Tybalt, making kissing noises to him and pinning him with a rapier to the crotch, while Benvolio and the rest of their irrepressible teen-age gang egg him on.
What? Has the Folger Theater Group reclassified The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet into an even more Lamentable Comedie?
On the contrary. Michael Tolaydo's fresh and funny but texturally supportable interpretation makes the tragic events more shocking than usual, because they pierce such childish playfulness. This is not a "Romeo and Juliet" in which one identifies with the lovers -- such puppies could be taken for figures of great romance only by each other -- but one that startlingly illuminates the machinations of the adult world.
It's a "Romeo and Juliet" with a full emotional range of high entertainment to excit jaded theater-goers who have seen too may Valentine versions.
Margaret Whitton and Robert L. Burns are engaging as the young couple, but they are not the real stars of this production. The powerful forces of fte that operate on them seem no more than the inevitable result of bringing two ripe kids together and forbiding them to fall in love.
But the grown-ups' treatment of this sweet and harmless pair just emerging from childhood supplies an unwittingly sinister force that's truly frightening because it's operating with such unconcern for the dire consequences.
That is not just the perpetuation of the family feud, but the high-handed, though well-intentioned, way in which all the adults manipulate the young people. There are, of course, the Capulets, played with great force and dash by Earle Edgerton and Marion Lines, alternately petting and bullying their daughter as she cooperates or rebels in her role of plaything. The relationship is summed up by a poignant scene in which Juliet cuddles on her father's lap to wheedle him into changing his mind, and Capulet gently rocks his baby as he plows right ahead with his directions.
There is also the original suggestion, in the way that the brilliant Shakespearean comdienne Glynis Bell plays the Nurse, and the increasingly subtle David Cromwell plays Friar Lawrence, that these two are escalating the tragedy to satisfy their respective vicarious interests in lust and love. Rather than recognizing the helpless childishness of the young lovers, they assist them in constructing a dangerously complicated adventure that's obviously beyond the capabilities of the boy and girl with whose whims and tantrums they are daily familiar.
One feels that if they had supplied more adult discipline and less enthusiastic plotting, they could better have served their charges.