Fun House Casts Teenagers in Heartfelt Production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

This year Dallas theaters are in love with Shakespeare's suicidal teenagers. Get ready for half a dozen productions of Romeo and Juliet, including big ones at Shakespeare Dallas and Dallas Theater Center.

Plano's Fun House Theatre and Film is doing a small one, but it's lovely, with heartfelt performances by a cast of teens. Director Jeff Swearingen has edited it down to just over two hours and added subtly improvised live accompaniment by pianist Thiago Nascimento.

In the title roles are Doak Campbell Rapp and Taylor Donnelson, both 16. They've grown up in Fun House shows over the past four years and they're able to speak Shakespeare with knowing conviction, if a bit breathlessly, and to create real chemistry. But while they may be ready emotionally to play star-crossed lovers, as actors they haven't yet learned how to communicate physically in such classical roles. Acting is more than facial expressions, voice and emotion. Rapp is handsome, all high cheekbones and dark curls, but he tends to slump his shoulders and shuffle his feet. Donnelson is pretty but looks tense and stiff-armed. They have more to learn before they can wear Romeo and Juliet unselfconsciously.

In the cast of 20 kids, well-rounded performances come from Kennedy Waterman as Juliet's nurse and Chris Rodenbaugh as Romeo's pal Mercutio. Rodenbaugh, 17, starred as Fun House's Hamlet two years ago and the experience helps in his easy way with the speeches and his head-to-toe confidence in tightly choreographed fight scenes (directed by Mick McCormick). His death scene as Mercutio, played with a touching sense of youthful surprise that his short life is ending, is the production's most poignant and memorable moment.

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