The famous "balcony" scene is there. But not the balcony. Instead, in Seattle Shakespeare Company's fervent, breathless, messy "Romeo and...

Share story

The famous “balcony” scene is there. But not the balcony.

Instead, in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s fervent, breathless, messy “Romeo and Juliet,” two impetuous teens declare their mutual love from opposite sides of a chain-link fence.

And as their ardor grows, the fence they cling to whirls round and round, faster and faster, like a swooning carousel.

This exhilarating image illustrates what’s best in John Langs’ fiery, modern-dress staging of the famed tragedy: a sense of adolescent love at its most impassioned, exciting and scarily out of control.

Lathrop Walker’s lanky, sweetly vulnerable Romeo and Dana Powers Acheson’s naive yet ferociously sensual Juliet first lock eyes at a party where he’s in the band, and she’s dolled up in a strapless red sheath.

From then on, their white-hot love connection is unquestionable. And the temperature keeps rising, until there’s no doubt these crazy kids will chug poison for each other.

However, the Verona the couple inhabits — a Verona of cellphones and iPods, adult feuds, lethal street battles and concerned but inept teachers, cops and nannies — is drawn much less persuasively.

Now playing

“Romeo and Juliet,” by William Shakespeare. Thursdays-Sundays through Nov. 20 at Center House Theatre, Seattle Center; $18-$30 (206-733-8222 or

Admirably, Langs doesn’t settle for the clichés that often encumber this familiar tragedy. But he follows through on too few of the tantalizing conceptual ideas he tosses out.

At least superficially, the Montagues, Romeo’s macho clan, have the cocky, Mob-made aura of the Sopranos. The Capulets are preppier and snobbier (thanks in good part to Deborah Skorstad’s contemporary costuming).

Mark Chamberlin, as Juliet’s short-fused father, gives one of the shapelier performances as a slick, tough corporate-type, in the Donald Trump mode. Also commendable: Allan Michael Barlow’s Friar Laurence, recast as a Jesuit prep-school teacher with real affection and concern for his charges.

Erica Bradshaw, as Juliet’s meddling African-American “nurse,” and Susanna Burney as her anxious mother are emphatic but sketchier figures. So are most of the loud, angry young dudes who’ve turned Verona into a war zone.

An exception is Ian Merrigan as Benvolio, who seems to mature overnight with his ill-fated buddy Romeo.

But the usually adept Hans Altwies, punked up in spiked hair, does a reductive, strut-and-shout job on Mercutio.

He isn’t helped by the more dubious liberties Langs takes with Shakespeare’s text. For instance, he’s cut a pungent street meeting among Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet’s nurse.

Langs also inserts a lugubrious one-man chorus (Nick Rempel). This figure, and some motor-mouth line readings, do keep the show moving swiftly down a doom-laden rack.

And for all its pitfalls, this “Romeo and Juliet” does have that attractive, intense, head-over-heels couple at its center. And as they woo, wed and (after one blissful connubial night) depart, Acheson and Walker do make us believe they share a love worth dying for.

Misha Berson: