‘Romeo and Juliet’: Can love stop the madness?

Company of the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet, playing March 1 — 31, 2019 at the Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre. © Photo: T. Charles Erickson

BOSTON — When you write for not only your age but for all ages, timeless themes will continue to resonate long after you’re gone.

So many centuries after a blood feud between two warring families – the Capulets and the Montagues – and its tragic results, the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” a work originally set in 14th Century Italy, continues to speak to us in the 21st Century United States.

And just in case you’re wondering about its modern-day relevance, Director Peter DuBois has made it a present-day tragedy. In printed interviews, DuBois scorned the  “tribalism” that afflicts our modern-day discourse, and has crafted this production with that in mind.

The play, of course, spells it out plainly, from the opening moments when the prince of Verona (Ed Hoopman) calls down the wrath of God on the warring families to the moment a dying Mercutio (an excellent Matthew J. Harris) utters his famous words at the end of Act I: “A pox on both your houses.”

And indeed his words will echo again and again, until there is nothing left of value for either side to lose.

Lily Santiago and George Hampe in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Huntington Avenue Theatre. © Photo: T. Charles Erickson

This “Romeo and Juliet” is largely crafted by and for millennials, from the modern dress to the free-spirited exchanges between Romeo and his “bros.”

DuBois re-imagines Verona, with current fashions, sensibilities, and even a modern vibe in the approach taken by the leads, Romeo (George Hampe) and Juliet (Lily Santiago).

In reaching out to the Gen Xers and millennials, something has been lost along the way.

Neither Hampe nor Santiago is able to reach down to the very depths of their characters, although Santiago fares somewhat better than Hampe as Romeo.

Despite the superb work of a cadre of designers and a supporting cast to die for, this take never quite reaches the heights of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production on Boston Common two years ago.

For two key roles — Juliet’s Nurse and Friar Laurence – DuBois has turned to two revered names in Greater Boston theater: Nancy E. Carroll and Will Lyman.

Carroll shines as Juliet’s caretaker, confidant and protector, who has helped raise her and knows her as well – nay, better – as her own mother, Lady Capulet (Marianna Bassham). The Nurse conspires with Juliet to help her be joined with Romeo, against the wishes of Juliet’s parents, Lord and Lady Capulet (Maurice Emmanuel Parent and Bassham), who have decided to marry her off to an ardent suitor, Paris (Matthew Bretschneider).

Lyman is the wise confidant and confessor to the young couple and is swept up in their love and devotion to each other, agreeing to the secret marriage and setting in motion the events that will lead to the tragic outcome.

There are several other supporting gems, including Dale Place as an addled servingman and the apothecary, deliverer of the deadly poison.

The Huntington’s production values are consistently excellent and here they enhance and amplify DuBois’ vision.

Wilson Chin’s set what appear to be a bank of what might be security cameras, and a row of flags clearly meant to stand for the Capulets on one side and the Montagues on the other. The space where the action takes place is spare; perhaps a meeting room or conference room of some kind.

The harrowing fight scenes are marvelously choreographed by the team of Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet.

Ilona Somogyi’s costumes also stand out, and the masked ball/banquet scene in Act I is skillfully and lovingly staged, thanks to choreography by Daniel Pelzig.

Those elements in turn are complemented by Russell H. Champa’s lighting and Obadiah Eaves” music/sound design.

Just like the Montagues and the Capulets, we are a nation apart, but but more than 400 years after “Romeo and Juliet” was written, we continue to be inspired by two young people who crossed the aisle, so to speak, and found another.

The question that always remains after the tragic conclusion: Where reason and logic have failed to stop the warring parties, can even love succeed in stopping the madness?

The Huntington Theatre Company production of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Directed by Peter DuBois. At the Huntington Avenue Theatre through March 31. huntingtontheatre.org.