Sunday, November 01, 2015

Romeo and Juliet at African American Shakespeare Company through Nov. 8

Romeo and Juliet Review
by Wanda Sabir

Jazara Metcalf & Wilgens Pierre as
Juliet and Romeo
Romeo and Juliet at the African American Shakespeare Company in San Francisco is amazing. Amazing might be an overused word, but my first articulated thoughts—off the chain, while a uniquely visual, albeit cliché, still falls short descriptively when applied to what is certainly one of AASC’s best productions. Having youth in a cast with seasoned older adults is nothing new for AASC, but to have them as stars is quite remarkable.

Jazara Metcalf (Juliet), Justin Foster (Paris),
Audreya DeShazier (Lady Capulet)
The afternoon I attended Juliet and Romeo were portrayed by Jazara Metcalf and Wilgens Pierre, who were superb. I also liked the parents, specifically Juliet’s mom (actress Audreya DeShazier) and her nurse, (actress Karen Travis). With 70s hits as the sound track, the Montegue friend, “Mercutio” (actor Thomas Times) is nothing but trouble— Sporting a huge Afro, Mercutio’s mouth is as quick to start a brawl as his hand to grab his knife.  He kept the brew stirred up whenever he saw a Capulet, his friends’: Benvolio (actor Christopher Howard) and Romeo’s (actor Wilgens Pierre) arch enemy.  Much less the firecracker, Benvolio intercepts a potential fight when we first meet him.  Pushed by Juliet’s cousin 
 Tybalt who with his boys attack him and Mercutio, the friends of course fight back.  For some reason, Tybalt (actor David McKneely) wants to keep the animosity stirred up. He even tries to start a fight at his Uncle Capulet’s house later on when he sees Romeo, a guest. His uncle has to threaten his nephew with bodily harm before the boy leaves.

LeShawn Holcomb (Balthsaar), Wanda Sabir, Karen Travis (Nurse)
McKneely’s fine looking Tybalt is the kind of personality that keeps adding fuel to the pyre long after it has simmered and nearly gone out. While Times’s Mercutio is a similar type, the two of them certainly partially responsible for Romeo and Juliet’s double suicide, there are other guilty parties as well.  Ortiz as Juliet’s father, Capulet, puts on an excellent fire and brimstone performance when Juliet refuses to marry Paris, the man her father has chosen for her. Ortiz’s irate and stern Capulet pushes his daughter, Juliet, over the edge where she fearfully takes the drug which feigns her death, and fools everyone including, unfortunately, Romeo.

I love the balcony scene between Pierre and Metcalf’s Romeo and Juliet. They are so cute. As Juliet writes in her diary reflections on Romeo, son of her family’s enemy that she wishes his name were something else and he listens from the shadows and then appears startling her. He does not know she knows his name until she calls it. He is so excited, his face upturned in a smile. He retreats to return often as they say goodbye and then Juliet remembers something else she forgot to say and he returns.

The next day when Nurse (actress Karen Travis) takes a message to him, Juliet’s other mother is so funny when she stalls and makes her girl wait to hear Romeo’s answer. The wedding is swift and Friar Laurence (actor Fenyang Smith) is a great ally for the young couple, first Romeo, and then Juliet.

I had not remembered the plan for Romeo and Juliet to relocate (after Juliet’s rebirth) care of the Friar. The problem was Romeo never got the note, because there was a plague and roads were closed Too bad no one just picked up the phone, (the setting was 1970). But then, it wouldn’t be Shakespeare’s R&J, now would it? His tragedies are sad and even when their is humor, someone has to die and in this story quite a few do, most necessarily as is the case when there is no sickness and youth is a factor.  So even though I knew the ending would be sad, I nonetheless found myself wiping tears from my eyes--

I also didn’t remember how young Juliet’s mother was when her daughter was born. Perhaps we can forgive her her callousness when Juliet does not want to marry Paris (Justin Foster) despite his attractiveness, kindness and genuine care for Juliet.  Her heart was enamored elsewhere.  Nurse tells Juliet to marry Paris and forget Romeo, but had she known how much the two youngsters loved each other she probably would not have trivialized the legal relationship as she did.

It is just a fabulous production from start to finish. The fight scenes, all the scenes with Nurse—she is so funny except when her baby is found dead. Other great scenes are the camaraderie between Mercutio and Benvolio—they spend a lot of time talking. All the scenes with the Montagues (Gift Harris and Brittany Sims), the saner of the two royal couples are great. These actors provide a great contrast to the other royal couple. The olive branch seemed to wave more vigorously on the Montague side than the Capulets, especially with Tybalt leading the charge. Lady Capulet also pushes revenge when Tybalt is killed, despite an eyewitness account by Benvolio (who is consistently on the side of peace). The pretty and elegant, Lady Capulet accuses him of lying. It is the levelheadedness of Monica Cappuccini’s Prince Escalus who spares Romeo's life.
Gift Harris (Montegue), Jazara Metcalf (Juliet), Thomas Times (Mercutio),Audreya DeShazier (Lady Capulet), Karen Travis (Nurse)

R&J show how easy it is to keep mess stirred up, and how easy it is to diffuse it. All one has to do is stand down and open one’s heart, as the two youth did to one another. Both parents realize too late that the warfare was not worth the loss of their beloved children. Nothing can bring their heirs back.

The set and costume design are also great, as is the choreography at the party. African American Shakes production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, directed by Sherri Young and L. Peter Callender, in partnership with Oakland School for the Arts, is up for one more weekend, Friday-Sunday, Nov. 6-8, at the Burial Clay Theatre, 762 Fulton Street, in San Francisco. Visit

To listen to an interview with the cast and co-director visit: (or click on the title link).


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