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Theater Review: “Romeo, Romeo & Juliet”

“Romeo, Romeo & Juliet” plays through July 8, 2018 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard.

You’ve seen Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Leonard Bernstein’s brilliant musical spinoff “West Side Story.”

But if you haven’t seen Ruff Yeager’s “Romeo, Romeo & Juliet,” in its world premiere through July 8 at Moxie Theatre, you’re missing a twisted tale with some good laughs.

This is not a Moxie production. It’s the brainchild of The Roustabouts Theatre, a homeless local troupe founded a year ago by Yeager and local funnyman Phil Johnson.

It’s summer stock in Cape Cod, where Director Simon (Brian Mackey) has just seven days to prepare Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” for production. He has just had to replace his Juliet with an unknown commodity named Nancy (Michelle Marie Trester) from St. George, Utah, and is waiting for her to arrive.

Fortunately, he has an experienced Romeo in Tracy (Michael Silberblatt), who doesn’t exactly look forward to meeting his new costar, who he suspects has never played Juliet. While waiting, Tracy and Simon (who have some history together) do some of those tongue-twisting voice warm-up exercises actors do.

When finally they hear the as-yet-unseen Juliet offstage doing a rather shrill beginning of the balcony speech, Tracy’s comment is “Jesus, I thought Merman was dead.”

It’ll prove to be an interesting week. Nancy (a Mormon) arrives, script in hand, and sure enough, she’s never played Juliet, but notes that she has played Laurie in “Oklahoma!” She has a boyfriend, who is on his mission in Tasmania (“down under Down Under”) and will be gone another 18 months.

It’s not Shakespeare that threatens to sabotage this production; Nancy proves to be a quick study and a decent actress. It’s that other bugaboo, backstage romance, that moves in.

Director Kim Strassburger keeps the craziness going at a breakneck pace – which serves the script well – and these actors are up to the task. I learned something about Mackey: he does great hysteria. Not to mention standard annoyance.

The program says Silberblatt is a local boy who’s been acting elsewhere. He nails the chance to do an acting tutorial here, and has an endless store of facial expressions and physical feats. He’s a welcome addition to our theater community.

Trester is impressive in the difficult part of an actress who doesn’t really know what she’s doing. This actress knows exactly what she’s doing, and how to do it with extraordinary finesse (if that’s quite the word for this character). She’s a joy to watch.

“Romeo, Romeo & Juliet” is a funny stage piece, and will delight a stage-savvy crowd with its theatrical references. My only cavils are that Nancy’s stated unwillingness to die onstage sparks a too-long “will she or won’t she” section  that seems to waste time, and that the play itself ends rather abruptly.

There’s nothing funny about “Romeo and Juliet,” but this version is a total hoot.

The details

“Romeo, Romeo & Juliet” plays through July 8, 2018 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 7280-7820 or theroustabouts.org