And the playwright is a local Milwaukee improv coach.

The night began not with the opening of a curtain, but with two audience members on stage in a head-to-head battle of Romeo and Juliet trivia.

The Comedy of Romeo and Juliet … Kinda Sorta – which runs at the Marcus Center through Aug. 10 and boasts a local director and a local cast drawn from the members of the Shakesparody Players – is tagged as a “playful parody,” which fits. Virtually every interaction featured either a joke or a quippy Shakespearean line. Some were straight from the original, while others (“I will haveth thy back!”) most definitely weren’t.

Here’s some of what stood out to this reviewer:

  • Playwright and director Patrick Schmitz (theater teacher at Brown Deer High School and the lead improvisation coach at First Stage Children’s Theater) mixed subtle allusions in with more obvious jokes to create a play that operated on multiple levels to make audience members laugh.
  • Nurse’s well-timed glance at her watch after she tells Juliet, “I’ll love you ’til the day you die,” got a great crowd reaction.
  • One joke that didn’t sit well came during the Apothecary’s brief stint in the second act. When discussing the price of her poison with Romeo, she mentions how a family member has a medical condition and needs an expensive surgery. In keeping with the social commentary theme that had been pretty pervasive throughout the rest of the play, this seemed like a buildup to a statement on health care. Instead, Apothecary cries, “So I need to get drunk!”
  • From “Call Me Maybe,” to “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” to the movie Elf, to the theme song from “Friends,” modern-day references were abundant.
  • Hayley San Fillippo plays Benvolio, which leads to a lot of questioning onstage from her fellow characters. “I’m playing a guy,” Benvolio explains definitively, to a round of audience applause. (This reviewer missed Benvolio’s easygoing humor in the darker, more death-filled second act). 
  • Romeo and Juliet are not portrayed as star-crossed lovers but instead as teenagers who rush into their relationship. Juliet is made to look shallow and manipulative, forcing Romeo to profess his love. Romeo is portrayed as over-emotional and something of a jerk. “I love her, Friar Laurence,” he says in one scene. “She’s so hot.”
  • Schmitz touched on a wide variety of issues, including predatory men, marriage, motherhood, treatment of nurses, the prevalence of social media, and gender roles. The opening-night audience clearly welcomed this foray into social commentary.
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Ultimately, the two-and-a-half-hour play was full of modern references and social commentary. Most jokes hit the mark; a few didn’t. Overall, it was the subtle humor and the commentary on love that made it an enjoyable evening.

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