It's not easy to put an unfamiliar spin on an iconic play that's been staged countless times over five centuries, but the DCPA's Romeo & Juliet  does just that. How you feel about it depends upon how wedded you are to the versions that came before this one.
Running through February 24th at the DCPA's Stage Theatre, the show adheres closely to William Shakespeare's original script. Where it departs from the more traditional productions is in its tone.
Even if you aren't intimately familiar with the play itself, you probably have a mental image of the two "star-cross'd lovers" at the center of the drama. It is, after all, the basis for virtually every love story of the past half-millennium. Most productions of the tragedy—performed everywhere from Broadway to Hollywood to your kid's high school—tend to depict a willowy and ethereal Juliet, but Lenne Klingaman brings a plucky new quality to the role. It's easy to forget that the Juliet Shakespeare conceived was only 13 years old, and Klingaman at times shows her to be a petulant teenager, shrieking at her nurse and stomping her feet when thwarted (often to great comic effect).
Charles Pasternak's Romeo takes a similar departure, playing the lovesick Montague as more desperate than dashing, less warmly enveloped by Juliet than manically entranced. The resulting vibe between the two leads is less fanciful and idealized than it is gritty—almost modernly so—and the couple's inability to unite creates more frustration and anger than romantic sorrow.
The staging itself presents contrasts throughout: The costumes are traditionally Elizabethan, intricate and ornate, but the sets are sleek and spare, making clever use of curtains, trap doors, and multiple entry points for the players to move on and offstage. And the tragic second half of the play is diametrically opposed to the comic first half that's so ribald in spots that it's borderline raunchy, even within the confines of Shakespeare's 16th-century innuendoes. (The standout comedic performances come from Jeanne Paulsen's Nurse and J. Todd Adams' Mercutio.)
All in all, Romeo & Juliet offers theatergoers the comfort of the familiar, but with subtly distinct twists that keep it interesting and updated.
Details: At the DCPA Space Theatre, Tuesday-Sunday through February 24. $48-$58.
—Image courtesy of the DCPA .
Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad .