By Lawson Taitte / The Dallas Morning News
Plano – – Romanoff and Juliet isn't performed much anymore. There's good reason.
Peter Ustinov, best remembered for winning Oscars playing Roman emperors in
historical movies, wrote the comedy back in 1957, during the Cold War. American
and Soviet ambassadors are trying to persuade
the government of the smallest and most laid-back country in Europe to declare for one bloc or the other. The general in charge (Ken Freehill) and his two-person army want to stay neutral. They take advantage of a forbidden romance between the American's daughter, Juliet, and the Russian's son, Igor Romanoff, to maintain the tiny nation's independence.
The satire seems stale indeed, now that jokes about Soviet spies and dialectic materialism have lost their kick. Mr. Ustinov also lets his characters talk, talk and then talk some more – often to very little purpose. A pundit called television of that era "a vast wasteland." The monologues in Romanoff and Juliet are far emptier.
Rover Dramawerks' revival, which opened at the ArtCentre Theatre of Plano on
Thursday, almost sinks in the first act. The writing is weakest here, and director
M. Shane Hurst's cast doesn't help it out. Mr. Freehill has a lot of lines and
muffs a great many. Pretty much the only bright spots come from Ben Schroth's
silliness as a
Things get somewhat better if you can steel yourself to stay past intermission. Jimmi Wright's entrance as Juliet's rich, opinionless American boyfriend Freddie begins to lighten things up a little. Bethany Dotson also provides some fun by making Juliet speak a bit like Marilyn Monroe.
Justin Thyme and Sherry Etzel have some nice moments as the Russian ambassador and his wife – though Romanoff's long, spotlit soliloquy about Russian melancholy is not among them.
Actually, the best thing about the production is Jason Rice's sound design. He has uncovered some cool big-band arrangements of famous Russian classical numbers like the "Sabre Dance." They're full of wit and energy. If only the play were, too!
Performance reviewed was Friday.
Romanoff and Juliet, presented by Rover Dramawerks at the ArtCentre
Theatre, 1028 15th Place, Plano, Thursdays through Saturdays through
Sept. 13. Runs 140 min. Tickets $12 to $16, with $2 discounts for
students, seniors and STAGE members. Call 972-849-0358