CSC Returns with a Timeless Classic to Re-Capture the Hearts of Theater Lovers

"a fresh and engaging take on the play...the cast truly understands the assignment -- to bring the comforts of laughter, love, and joy to the hearts of those who missed live performances"

 Review by Jenifer Moore

The energy at the corner of Elm and W. 12th Streets was electric October 8. Approximately 18 months after its main stage went dark, a mixed crowd of young and old, different nationalities and genders anxiously awaited the re-grand opening season of the 2021-2022 Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.

Love is in the air — literally and figuratively– in Over-The-Rhine as THE ARTS ARE BACK at The Otto M. Budig Theater. And what better way to re-capture the hearts of theater lovers than with the timeless Shakespearean classic “œRomeo & Juliet“?

I’ll go ahead and acknowledge the elephant in the room regarding the health and safety of patrons, actors, and staff as we all continue to deal with the pandemic. Like many local performing arts venues, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company currently requires all ticket holders to show proof of a COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter the theater.

 The company has a seamless process with health check-ins outside the entrance and also offers a complimentary “Vax Pass” for future shows. Masks are required unless eating or drinking and hand sanitizer is available throughout the theater.

As always, the greeters are warm and friendly. You can tell that the staff missed seeing patrons and can feel the sense of joy filling up the spaces of the theater. I expected the normal playbook with information on the performance and was pleasantly surprised to find a small note card at my seat with a QR Code to scan to access the mobile program. This is an excellent touch to the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company experience that should stay post-pandemic.

This joy spilled over into the start of the performance as Brian Isaac Phillips, producing artistic director, took the stage to a five-minute standing ovation. You could feel the excitement from Phillips as he gazed into the audience in wonderment following months of delays.

While William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” is a tragic tale of two young people who fall in love amidst the dueling of their families, the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company presents a fresh and engaging take on the play with Darnell Pierre Benjamin at the helm in his main stage directorial debut at The Otto M. Budig Theater. Benjamin’s vast expertise in classic theater performance reflects well throughout the production as the cast truly understands the assignment — to bring the comforts of laughter, love, and joy to the hearts of those who miss live performances. The play is seamless in its transitions with the multicultural cast nailing each line for the entire two-hour and thirty-minute show.

Crystian Wiltshire and Courtney Lucien have an undeniable chemistry as Romeo and Juliet, as they should since this play is situated in romance. However, Geoffrey Warren Barnes II and Gina Cerimele-Mechley take the cake for their respective performances as Mercutio and the nurse. Each has a flair in their line delivery that coupled with hilarious movements elicits laughter throughout the audience.

Samantha Reno, a Cincinnati native, brings her experience in design home from California with a Renaissance-like set with replicas of distinctive architecture, greenery, florals, and two water fountains that anchor the stage for her season debut. Kudos to Rainy Edwards as well for the beautiful costume designs that match the Verona, Italy period. The outfits and design were traditional in nature but vibrant in color and light in weight for ease of movement.

Overall, the first production of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company went off without a hitch with the artists and crew delivering excellence as always.

If you are considering dipping your toe back into live performance shows, make The Otto M. Budig Theater your first stop. “œWilliam Shakespeare“™s & Juliet“ runs until Nov. 13 at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.

Tickets and more info are available at https://www.cincyshakes.com  or by calling the box office at (513) 381-2273.

 Courtney Lucien (Juliet) and and Gina Cerimele-Mechley (Nurse) in
“Romeo and Juliet” at CSC. Photo by Mikki Shaffner.

Jenifer Moore is a Corporate Affairs Manager for Kroger, former Public Affairs Specialist for AAA, and Walnut Hills grad. Her passions include communications, PR, supporting candidates, “I Love Lucy,” and live theatre.

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