Throw away any notion of anything serious when you enter the ultra-intimate confines of the Actors Workout Studio to absorb the giddy buffoonery of writer/director Matt Richey’s Romeo and Juliet in Hell. This mashup of Shakespearean characters stuck in a special realm of the bad place includes many of the most famous characters of Shakespeare, including a couple of whimsical outliers.
The show begins with a curtain raiser featuring violinist Jennifer Novak Chun sawing away on her lovely fiddle as she gets the audience to help with the beats by clapping and stomping their feet. She even dusts off the old song about the showdown between the devil and the violinist, Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” She bows and is not seen again until curtain call.
A blackout and the lights go up to reveal the famous lovers Romeo (Colton Butcher) and Juliet (Lauren Diaz) huddled on the floor. They awake to find each other and engage in passionate embraces and sloppy kissing. They don’t know they are dead and in a hell reserved for Shakespearean characters until a couple of other residents of the theatrical hell, Tybalt (the smiling charmer, Carlos Chavez) and Mercutio (tall, lanky Nick Ley) enlighten them. Hmmm…did I mention that Juliet plays out the show with her suicidal dagger sticking out of her bodice?
Eventually the stage is flooded with more of your favorite Shakespearean stars–Hamlet (gloomy, skull clutching Mikael Mattsson); a slim, smiling, combative Laertes (David Chernyavsky); Macbeth (short, stout and intense Graydon Schlichter) and Lady Macbeth (Therese Olson, all bloodied up and around-the-bend-insane); Othello (Brenton Sullivan who chokes every time he says the word “more”) and buxom, vivacious Chloe Zubiri as Desdemona; King Lear (Ron Gabaldon, whose face cannot be seen under a cascade of white wig and beard); and mysteriously, J. Elijah Cho plays “Tony” from West Side Story, whose hellish punishment is to sing “Maria” for all of eternity. And who might be the hell-master of this strange portion of Hades? Why, a slinky, stylish Bob Fosse (Kawika Aguilar), of course!
This mash up is patently outrageous and undeniably, groanably funny, with a cast that is having the time of their life and the audience gets sucked in like a doomed ship in a whirlpool. Don’t think, just enjoy the fun.
Romeo and Juliet in Hell is a creation of Force of Nature Productions, Sebastian Muñoz, artistic director, tech operator, and light and sound director. The set is designed by Jerry Chappell; costumes and props are by Gail Murray, Leanne Hall, and Melissa Muñoz; Scáthach Cotter, Redetha Deason, Jeffrey Bouton and Jerry Chappell built the set and painted it.
Romeo and Juliet in Hell runs through November 23 at Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood.