Perks (and a few pitfalls) of love off-book

Everything in this review is subject to change. Or at least some of it is, because while “Romeo and Juliet,” the latest production by the Original Shakespeare Company, is not radical in it’s acting, costumes or direction, it distinguishes itself from your run-of-the-mill Bard experience with its unorthodox (read: Elizabethan) manner of rehearsing.

In a rehearsal style common among troupes in the 16th century, no single actor in the company reads through the whole play. The only things they rehearse together are entrances and exits, the beginnings and the ends of their lines, and choreographed scenes like fights and dances. While these measures might seem paranoid to today’s thespian, they were essential in an era when companies were in constant jeopardy of betrayal from actors who would leak their material to other groups.

Which is all to say that “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Justin Dobies ’12 (who also plays the Prince), is in no way your ordinary theatrical experience. You’ve probably known what the deal is since, like, sixth grade, but briefly:

These two teenagers from rival Italian families, Romeo Montague (Mitchel Kawash ’12) and Juliet Capulet (Timmia Hearn Feldman ’12), hook up at a masquerade ball. That same night, they promise to marry each other after Romeo oh-so-rudely eavesdrops on Juliet monologuing on her balcony, and the two agree to be exclusive. A well-wishing friar (Faizaan Kisat ’12) marries them off the next day hoping that their love will end their families’ beef. A few hours later, Romeo unintentionally kills his old lady’s cousin Tybalt (Jesse Kirkland ’12) and is banned from Verona. That night, he sneaks into her room where they “consummate” their relationship, if you know what I mean. Then they get confused and somehow end up dead. Oh, and Juliet was 13 or something.

Clocking in at a little under three hours (subject to change), “Romeo and Juliet” showcases a fine ensemble of lead actors, although some of the supporting cast tend toward uncomfortable awkwardness.

Kawash is a lovable Romeo. He earnestly embodies the “star-crossed lover” who, captivated by the beauty of the young Juliet, goes (starry-eyed) to pursue her. When Romeo is heartbroken over his rejection by Rosaline, Kawash puts his hands in his pockets and sadly ambles from the dark aisle to the lit stage. Throughout the play, Kawash keeps up the image of a timid, mesmerized Romeo — he’s endearingly defenseless, emotionally frail and vulnerable.

Hearn Feldman runs in and out of scenes with the energy of a 13-year-old. She twirls and flirts, but she also screams out in agony when she hears that her husband has been banned from Verona, successfully marrying the young girl with the pained lover inside of her.

Sometimes the actors hesitate, sometimes they mix their words, but considering that the play is in ancient English and that they had to learn their lines in just a few weeks, their relative eloquence is commendable.

Nick’s Chapel is small, but the cast manages to successfully employ the space to its advantage, using a set of boxes to construct the different scenes of the play. The boxes become a banquet table, an altar and the marriage bed of the doomed couple. The lighting is a bit off-putting — although it doesn’t play a major role throughout the production (it’s just switched on and off between scenes), the occasional use of an array of round, luminescent spheres tends to cause more confusion than illumination for the audience.

The wardrobe is one of the greatest weaknesses of the production. While the men are in Elizabethan-wear, most of the women don modern dresses. While this anachronism was not exceptionally unappetizing, it was definitely noticeable (Juliet’s dress was strapless — seriously?). Another sartorial inconsistency is the shoes. Some wear oxfords, some wear sneakers or boots, and many of the women wear strappy heels. It’s annoying, but the footwear faux pas is quickly subsumed by the artful performances/the awesome sword fights/the startling death scene/the eternal, heart-wrenching, unflagging love of Romeo and Juliet.

“Romeo and Juliet,” a joint Morse College and Elizabethan Club production, runs through Saturday at the Nick Chapel Theater.

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