The masked ball scene in Ubuntu Theater Project's production of Romeo & Juliet
The masked ball in Ubuntu Theater Project’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Simone Finney
The masked ball in Ubuntu Theater Project’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Simone Finney

A downtown Oakland street magically became a road in medieval Verona, as the enchanted audience stood and watched the opening outdoor scenes of Ubuntu Theater Project’s lively and lovely production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

When the scene changed to indoors, the actors and audience moved inside a warehouse with seating, attached to the Flax Art and Design store on 15th Street in Oakland.

This indoor/outdoor device was one of several ingenious touches employed by talented director Susannah Martin to make creative use of the unusual stage space. She also kept the pace of the drama moving quickly, with a few judicious cuts to the text. And when the play began in earnest, and young Romeo and Juliet first meet, the lack of a proper theater and stage faded away in light of the excellent portrayal of the famous story of the star-crossed lovers.

The centuries-old saga that still tugs at one’s heartstrings in a powerful rendition like this one centers around the decades-long feud between the Capulet and Montague families, the cause of which is never disclosed if at all remembered. Their teenaged children meet and instantly fall in love. Their parents’ societal expectations clash with their youthful fervor, to (spoiler alert) deadly results.

The entire cast was uniformly expressive and effective. Amazing Sarah Camacho, a high school senior in her first professional role, played Juliet with heartfelt emotion and professional aplomb. Excellent Chachi Delgado portrayed Romeo as he should be, with the fire and heat of a  young man. Of particular note was terrific Michael Curry, who as Romeo’s friend Mercutio, captured the essence of the first act Queen Mab speech. Kevin Rebultan, as Benvolio, added context to his role.

The entire two-act, one-intermission play, is to be noted for its action, as the actors use the whole of a large stage, which helps to keep the audience’s attention. The proximity of the audience to the actors, the active and realistic fight scenes, the contemporary dress, and the very affordable ticket prices, all make this version of Romeo and Juliet a wonderful way to introduce young people to the wonders of Shakespearean drama.

A note from Ubuntu Theater Project reads: “If the weather allows, the performance will move around the space. We encourage audience members to stand and move with the action, however, seating is available for all patrons. We recommend you wear comfortable shoes and bring layers for your comfort; there will also be blankets for use in the space.”

Romeo and Juliet is playing Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through June 9 at The Flax Building, 1501 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland. Advance tickets are between $15 and $45 online, and on a pay-what-you-can basis at the door. Subscriptions are also available on a pay-what-you-can basis. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Ubuntu Theater Project.

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Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...