Romeo and Juliet

Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol, through April 13, 785-0100.

Juliet's balcony in Romeo and Juliet at the Bristol Riverside Theatre must be at least 15 feet up in the air. When Romeo (G.R. Johnson) tries to climb up to Juliet (Elizabeth Mestnik) in the "balcony scene," he can shimmy up the steel pipes supporting it only a few feet, and for the rest of the scene is forced to gaze at his newly discovered loved one from below.

This is, I think, just as it should be. I've long thought that this scene shouldn't be about the athleticism of Romeo climbing, or about the young lovers getting all kissy-face, but rather about the poetic lyricism of the two young protagonists' love bridging the enormous gap between them. Their words and their love fly back and forth on the wings of the magnificent poetry.

Well, the poetry is all well-spoken at Bristol. But there's barely a moment of real emotional connection in the entire production, between the lovers or between anyone else.

It's all very pretty, elaborate and competent -- from Scott Pinkney's twinkling stars on Rels Anderson's set and the elaborate period costumes by Michael Wynne (with multicolored hose, elaborate codpieces, wimples and pillbox hats), to the pretty pictures created by directors Susan D. Atkinson and Edward Keith Baker with their enormous cast of guards, attendants, maids, servants, children, night watchmen and passersby, who crowd the stage in all of the public, and even some of the private, scenes.

But the play and the production are smothered by its prettiness, by its elaborateness, by its very competence. It all remains, like Romeo in the balcony scene, thoroughly earthbound.

Hazel Bowers is refreshingly nasty and impatient as the Nurse (she gives Romeo a swift kick in the ribs when he's "blubbering and weeping" in Friar Lawrence's cell about his banishment), though I never sensed enough of a real relationship with Juliet to make the Nurse's later betrayal truly horrifying. And John Michalski, as Capulet, delivers the type of professional, experienced, well-trained, sonorously well-spoken and thoroughly deadly generic Classical Acting (with a capital C and a capital A) to which, evidently, the rest of the cast (including Johnson, Mestnik, and William Zielinksi as Mercutio) all aspire.

The elaborate and boisterous stage fights (including a particularly grisly death for Tybalt) are choreographed by Rick Sordelet.

-- Cary M. Mazer