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'Romeo and Juliet' reduced

Seventh Sister produces quality, no-frills show

Rebecca J. Ritzel of Lancaster Intelligencer Journal

When Shakespeare called the city of Verona "fair" in the prologue to "Romeo and Juliet," he must have been striving for dramatic irony.

Other than attractive actors, there's very little that could be deemed "fair" in in Theater of the Seventh Sister's current production.

The tale of star-crossed lovers and their feuding families unfurls on a dark, sparse set. Fabric scrims simulate pillars, and a few granite-looking platforms substitute for porticos. Sarah Shirk designed simple, authentic Elizabethan costumes.

Gary Smith directs the no-frills show. As is often the case with Seventh Sister, quality acting makes for a compelling performance. Wise cuts from the bard's script, cleverly juxtaposed scenes and creative use of space ensure the production is unique.

"Romeo and Juliet" opened Wednesday with a school-day matinee. Public performances continue tonight and Friday at Liberty Place Theater and Conference Center.

The show was scheduled to be staged at Millersville University's Rafter's Theater, where Seventh Sister took up residence last year. However, the university and Seventh Sister double-booked Rafters. Fortunately, the acting company was able to rent Liberty Place. Unfortunately, the run is short.

"Romeo and Juliet" is arguably Shakespeare's best-known story line, yet the central theme remains wide open for debate.

Are Romeo and Juliet admirable young lovers doomed by fate and hatred? Or are they infatuated teenagers who, in the face of obstacles, are guilty of rash decisions?

Seventh Sister's production leans toward the latter interpretation, but not too far. (To see a 13-year-old Juliet, as Shakespeare scripts, would be disturbing outside of Shakespeare camp.)

Seventh Sister veteran Timothy Scott Riggs (Romeo) and newcomer Melissa Dunphy (Juliet) bare their characters' flaws onstage.

Rigg's bipolar Romeo swings from exuberant lover to angst-ridden youth. Dunphy's Juliet is impetuous and a tad immature, but a joy to watch. Dunphy, a native of Sydney, Australia, works as an assistant producer for WITF-TV. "Romeo and Juliet" marks her American debut.

Give credit to the lighting techs, of course, but Dunphy's face is captivating, whether in rapture or tears.

John Rohrkemper (Friar Lawrence) leads an outstanding supporting cast. When he speaks, the actors stop and listen. His words are emphasized as the compassionate voice of reason, that, if followed, would have stemmed the tide of blood in Verona's streets.

Rivals G.I. Brinson (Tybalt) and Jeff Marsh (Mercutio) sword fight and taunt each other with engaging swagger. Yet even as he staggers towards death, Marsh brings levity to the play.

Cynthia Charles, who has appeared in two dozen Seventh Sister productions, is an interesting choice to play Juliet's comic nurse. While the nurse is typically portrayed as short, squat and matronly, Charles is tall and lovely as always, even with her head wrapped liked a nun's habit.

To compensate, Charles plays the nurse as an awkward, gangly odd girl out. She's not knee-slapping funny, but effective. (A note to parents, aside from a few phallic references and gestures, this is as tame as "Romeo and Juliet" comes.)

The play clocks in just over two hours, but could be longer. Smith's cuts never detract from the drama, and he rolls scenes into each other, sometimes overlapping dialogue and action on alternate corners of the stage.

Occasionally the score of drones, Renaissance instruments and chorus intrudes, rather than complements, the action.

Liberty Place's auditorium is not exactly intimate, but "Romeo and Juliet" can only grace the stage only for two nights. Theatergoers should be thankful there are plenty of chairs.

Tickets are still available for performances today at 9:30 a.m., tonight at 7:30 p.m. and Friday at 8 p.m. 313 W. Liberty St. 396-7764.

GRAPHIC: COLOR PHOTO, Dan Marschka, Melissa Dunphy and Timothy Scott Riggs star as Romeo and Juliet in Theater of the Seventh Sister's production of the Shakespearean classic.

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