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Theater Review - Star-crossed lovers

Only a play as well known as Romeo & Juliet could support PushPush Theater's bold and mind-boggling staging. The cast consists of four players, with Claire Bronson as Juliet and Trent Merchant, Daniel Pettrow and Nathan Mobley portraying all the other roles (including the women). To complicate matters, the three actors alternate playing different characters, so each gets to play Romeo at different parts of the evening. The actors announce the locations and identify who they're playing with every entrance.

Director Tim Habeger's approach suggests an extension of the theater's five-hour, five-actor Peer Gynt earlier this year, with the actors pointedly playing to the audience and occasionally making anachronistic asides. When Juliet's nurse accosts Romeo's rowdy friends, the actors make the beeping sounds of a truck backing up. Occasionally it becomes too light-hearted, finding laughs when Romeo kills Juliet's suitor Paris. But some of the play's less-famous moments get fresh presentations, as when Juliet defies and then pretends to reconcile to her parents.

Like Peer Gynt, PushPush's Romeo and Juliet both benefits from the energy of its youthful performers and suffers from excessive length, offering almost the entirety of Shakespeare's text. The shortened version arranged specifically for young people at 2 p.m. Dec. 29 may be the best showcase for PushPush's concept of the play and its ideas about audience interaction.

At two-and-a-half hours, PushPush's tag-team Romeo and Juliet wears out its welcome, but it offers an admittedly unique perspective on the material and can be engaging in an acting-exercise kind of way. The actors have many fun, interesting moments, although Bronson, at the show's center, lacks some of the girlish exuberance one expects from the 13-year-old Juliet. Plus, the play's themes of constancy and Juliet's question "What's in a name?" take on different meanings when Romeo is played by a different guy from scene to scene.

Romeo & Juliet plays through Dec. 31 at PushPush Theater, 1123 Zonolite Road, Suite 3. Wed.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sun. at 7 p.m. $10-$15. 404-892-7876. www.pushpushtheater.com.??

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