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Romeo & Juliet through the Eyes of Teen Critics

Every season a group of High School students participate in STC’s Teen Critic program. These students attend the productions, participate in workshops and craft critical reviews reflecting their unique perspectives on the performances.

Click here to find out more about the Teen Critic program.


Ayana Workman as Juliet and Andrew Veenstra as Romeo in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet, directed by Alan Paul. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Camilla Johnson, 9th grade, Georgetown Visitation High School

Normally, I am not a romantic. And as much I wanted to hate the production of Romeo & Juliet at the Shakespeare Theatre Harman Hall for its shallow characters and plot, there was nothing to criticize. It was impeccable. The acting was amazing, the characters were well portrayed and likable, the set was well designed, the soundtrack complemented the play perfectly, and the show was well cast. (I’ll warn future audience members, it can be prudent to bring a pack of tissues for the end if one cries easily).

The first thing heard in the show is vacuuming. Not a soliloquy, not a dramatic music piece, but a person vacuuming the stage. It is unexpected, ungainly, and unromantic, but it draws you in and makes you laugh. Then, a bar brawl occurs between the Montagues and the Capulets. This sets the tone for the next hour: unexpected moments of comedy punctuated by violence, and all the while Romeo and Juliet are struggling to be happy together amid the chaos. The show does not focus single-mindedly on Romeo and Juliet’s love, but also strives to show more complex aspects of traditionally minor characters, such as the conflict of Lady Capulet, the wisdom of Benvolio, and the frustration of the friar. In doing this, the romance feels fresh and exciting, instead of cliched and overdone, because the audience is not forced to focus so intensely on the lovers. Actually, some of the side characters are so strong (fan favorites being the maudlin, David Bowie-esqe Mercutio played by Jefferey Carlson, and wisecracking Benvolio played by Jimmie Jeter) that they could have stolen the show if the leads had not been so strong.


Madison Chambers, 12th grade, Duke Ellington High School

With extreme modernism and flair, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Romeo & Juliet directed by Alan Paul, really pushed the envelope of race, pride and young love. This story, like many of Shakespeare’s plays are very well known, which could turn off someone people who very rarely go to the theatre, because no wants to go to the theatre just to fall asleep before the ending of the first act. This show was nothing like that. From that first shot blasted off of that infamous balcony, the energy was up the entire night in the audience and on stage. The nightclub atmosphere of the piece added to the constant but not overwhelming spectacle. There were balloons, DJs, singing, stage combat and more that added to the “edge of your seat” feeling throughout the play.


Keira DiGaetano, 10th grade, Richard Montgomery High School

As the lights came up for the first scene, the set demanded attention for all of the right reasons. Done entirely in red, with large potted plants in stark contrast, the deep colors helped establish the ambiguous modern-yet-futuristic time period. In terms of other productions successes, the soundtrack throughout the play was incredibly fitting. The party scene used electronic music that had a hazy element to it, there were ambient tunes accompanying the scenes, and the climactic deaths found footing with shrill and tension-filled music. Finally, there were a few elements of production that should really be left unknown, for surprise value, but I will say that prospective viewers should stay on their toes and look for detail.


Ayana Workman as Juliet in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet, directed by Alan Paul. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Callie Cooper, 12th grade, James Madison High School

I was very excited to hear that The Shakespeare Theater was starting off their season with an oldie, but a goodie Shakespeare tragedy. This modern adaptation of Romeo & Juliet was done very well, and proves yet again that this Shakespeare company thrives on taking risks and staying fresh with this classic material. I appreciated Workman’s portrayal of Juliet. I truly believed that she was a “girl of fourteen years”. Her posture, wardrobe and stage presence gave off a blissfully youthful vibe that stayed true to the text. I also felt that the much credit should be given to the director, Alan Paul, for milking every opportunity for comedy throughout the play. This provides pleasant comic relief in this tragedy.


Renée Deminne, 10th grade, St. Charles High School

The use of comic relief in this play was the one of the aspects I was most impressed with.  The performance was littered with doses of humor, effectively avoiding fatigue from the play’s tragic mood without overdoing it.  Jeffrey Carlson’s flamboyant performance as Mercutio gave a hilarious performance together with Jimmie J.J. Jeeter as Benvolio.  Even during the tragic downfall of Romeo, the performance gave some amusing quips to lighten the heavy tragic atmosphere.

The performance also gave a unique look at the love between Romeo & Juliet.  Many interpretations show it as silly and irrational, while Paul’s takes it completely seriously.  Even if you are skeptical with the idea of love at first sight, a play with the two lovers seeming simply doomed from the beginning is not very entertaining.  The emotion in Andrew Veenstra as Romeo and Ayana Workman as Juliet creates an atmosphere where one forgets they are in a play at all.  Even during the Balcony scene that is the first image etched into our minds when we hear Shakespeare, Juliet’s woeful soliloquy still manages to have that entrancing quality when you are not just watching a play that you already know the ending to, you are witnessing a story between two lovers and are anxiously awaiting the result.  Part of this was the costumes, designed by Kaye Voyce.  The play was in modern dress and had many modern elements, like a wild DJ party.  This seemed like it placed more emphasis on the story itself than if distracting Elizabethan costumes were used.


Malaika Bhayana, 10th grade, Bethesda Chevy Chase High School

Alan Paul, the director, managed to add a modern undertone to the play, without compromising the beauty of Shakespeare. One particular standout of the show was Andrew Veenstra (Romeo). He added a new depth to Romeo’s character that I hadn’t seen before. He reflected the complexity of teenage emotions in his acting. The rash romanticism that had put me off Romeo’s character in previous performances is what Veenstra channeled to make him so likable. The supporting cast was another standout of this performance. Judith Lightfoot Clarke (Lady Capulet) stripped the layers behind a shallow housewife to reveal a grieving mother.


Talia Zitner, 10th grade, Woodrow Wilson High School

The actress who played Juliet, Ayana Workman, looks extraordinarily young, which made her infatuation with Romeo all the more realistic. The love between the two actors, Andrew Veenstra and Ayana Workman, was very believable, and left me with the familiar sense of sadness and frustration afterwards that often accompanies this tragedy.


Alex Mickiewicz as Tybalt and Andrew Veenstra as Romeo in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet, directed by Alan Paul. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Zach Garrigus, 10th grade, Atholton High School

I found the direction of Romeo & Juliet to be quite well done. The skilled direction was most noticeable during the play’s three fight scenes, expertly choreographed by David Leong. Often, fight scenes on stage can end up looking highly stilted and awkward due to extensive rehearsal. This was not the case in Romeo & Juliet. All of the fight scenes were convincing and seemed to have a real sense of risk riding upon them. Every punch in each of the fights appeared to have real weight behind it, and, whenever a character was struck, they looked as if they had actually been injured. I was even more impressed at the fact that all three of the fight scenes involved a large amount of ensemble cast members and extras. So many complex things were happening at once on stage that, if I had directed the play, I probably would have torn my hair out in frustration and unprofessionally walked off set more than a few times. All in all, I could definitely appreciate the direction of Romeo & Juliet. The director made an obvious effort to make the play visually interesting in order to add a new and unique twist to the classic script and must have had incredible patience to plan and block many of the performances more intricate scenes.


Mia Randers-Pehrson, 9th grade, homeschooled

The red set (designed by Dane Laffrey) was a character of its own, draping the story in a fog of love, passion, sex, anger, violence and, of course, blood. As the play progresses you see more and more of the darkness. The coin is flipped right before intermission, as the two families fight to the death. The jagged lighting (designed by Jen Schriever) added to the mood, creating realistically private spaces for the couple to meet and fall in love. It also illuminated the carefully conceived costumes (designed by Kaye Voyce). The actors were clothed (mostly) in unobtrusive modern dress, thus another line was successfully thrown to reality. Small details such as the earbuds slung over Romeo’s shoulders and slightly larger ones like Mercutio’s shiny silver party suit added enjoyable, memorable and strangely realistic moments.

This unforgettable re-imagining of the classic tale of youth reminds us never to underestimate the power of love. As you watch the show, you will hear the characters’ (and perhaps your own) heartbeat in your ears (sound designed by Daniel Kluger). You will laugh, and cry, and cry again.


Photos of the cast of Romeo & Juliet by Scott Suchman.

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