Obvious flaws tarnish 'Romeo and Juliet'

"Romeo and Juliet" starts promisingly.

A group of rowdy young men enters, swords drawn, ready to battle. The kids, however, don't look evil. Their desire to fight feels serious enough; you believe it could lead to death. But their passions seem, rightly, to be the result of misguided, adolescent energy.

That flourish of an opening, unfortunately, is undercut by an actor of little presence -- AJ Smithey as the prince of Verona -- who's supposed to be commanding enough to rule his subjects. Thus begins director David Ivers' bumpy ride into the Bard's universe of love and tragedy.

The strengths and weaknesses of this show about how a family feud destroys a young couple's lives are easy to detect. The center of the misfortune is Magan Wiles' Juliet. She looks around 14 years of age, which is perfect for her character. But when she speaks, her tongue can't maneuver its way around Shakespeare's language. She doesn't seem particularly into Romeo. When she tells us of her uncontrollable lust, she sounds like a schoolgirl dutifully reciting a classroom text.

Christian Barillas, while often vocally monotonous, manages to convince us that his soul is changed when Juliet enters his life. He moves well, and his likability involves us in the story.

As the nurse, Jeanne Paulsen captures the strong bond with Juliet and the rest of the Capulet family. She projects the humor, fear and devotion of the woman. And, in a tiny role of a drug dealer, Peter Silbert suggests a mysterious man comfortable in the unworldly world of supernatural danger. Silbert's apothecary says a few words, steals the show and then disappears. The life of a talented actor is sometimes good.

T. Anthony Marotta has choreographed some exciting fight sequences that feel realistic yet never have us wondering about the safety of the actors, or the front-row audience.

Too many members of the cast, though, seem to have carefully thought out their lines without creating characters to own them. Ivers has come up with a moving bit of business for the play's final moment. But the final result is an ordinary production: often competent, seldom inspired and, for the most part, graduate-school level.