Futuristic Romeo & Juliet Stays True to the Past

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While it may be an oxymoron, the Secret Theatre and the resident Queens Players of Long Island City have adopted a futuristic premise for Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. Yet they have maintained his 16th century language. Should the audience take the bait?

At Friday evening’s performance, towering but ambiguous murals of pillared structures could have been forums from Shakespeare’s era or burned out futuristic edifices. Only a balcony steals the audience’s gaze from eye level in this three sided “theatre in the round.”

A deliberately choppy pre-curtain fictional “documentary” film alludes to the world’s demise in a bleak future. Handouts offer the end of the world, chronologically detailed. Blackout. Lights. Welcome to Shakespeare in a 21st century Armageddon.

Director Gregory Cicchino and Artistic Director/Producer Richard Mazda offer more contradictions. At least four male roles are deftly handled by women. They are Friar Lawrence (Katie Braden), Tybalt (Shelleen Kostabi), Lord Montague (Kathryn Neville Browne) and Abraham (Jeni Ahlfeld). Costumes are neither clearly modern nor strictly ancient.

Romeo (Justin Randolph) is a young man of extremes. He is whiny, fickle and love struck. Then he becomes a murderer almost out of necessity. This includes his own death. His Juliet (Jessica Russell) reminds us that the star crossed lovers were teens. She is insecure, comedic, rebellious and determined. Mercutio (Dan Smith) swaggers and falls with irreverence and irony.

Supporting players and tech support too numerous to mention by name seem to savor the eerie atmosphere and constant, deliberate ambiguity. So did I.

As part of the Long Island City Arts Center located at 44-02 23rd St., the Secret Theatre consists of the larger Big Secret and a more intimate Little Secret Theatre. For seats to Romeo and Juliet, which runs through February 6 at the Big Secret, call (718) 392-0722, or surf to www.secrettheatre.com or www.thequeensplayers.com