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Sweet Sorrow

There are fresh delights to be found in Richmond Shakespeare Festival's "Romeo and Juliet."

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First among them is Meghan Grady, who is luminous as Juliet Capulet. She doesn't just act like Juliet, she fully embodies her, through the eager innocence of meeting Romeo Montague for the first time to the tormented anguish of finding him dying beside her. From her lips, Shakespeare's sublime poetry flows with contemporary urgency. Grady also serves the play well as "Master of Costume," employing a clan-specific color-coding scheme and using simple flourishes to good effect.

Shanea Taylor chews up the stately Agecroft Hall scenery in several roles, particularly as Romeo's best bud, Mercutio. This is an actress who could give bravado lessons to many a leading man. Her Mercutio is biting, sarcastic, bombastic, bold and ultimately heroic.

Supporting players Cynde Liffick and Carl B. Long are no slouches either. Liffick exercises her impressive range, playing giddy and confused as Juliet's nurse, and solemn and wise as Friar Laurence. The two most villainous roles are Long's: Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, who arrogantly strikes down Mercutio, and Juliet's father, who abusively insists that Juliet marry someone besides Romeo. Long projects meanness so well he should have his own theme music.

If there's anything to quibble about here, it's Dan Istrate's Romeo. Part of the problem is simple casting — Istrate is too old to play the boyish young lover. While his performance is still compelling, it seems strident instead of supple, showy when it should be more nuanced.

Still, if you want to find new wonders in an ancient story, Richmond Shakespeare Festival's "Romeo and Juliet" is the show to see. S



Richmond Shakespeare Festival presents "Romeo and Juliet" at Agecroft Hall Thursday-Sunday, through July 31. Tickets cost $23. Call 1-866-BARD-TIX.



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