William Shakespeare needs no excuse. And the Shakespeare Project 2005, an ambitious, summerlong festival now on stage at the New Theatre, holds the immense promise of some of the most exciting drama the world has known. Romeo and Juliet, which will be followed by The Merchant of Venice in July and Macbeth in August, already makes good on much of that promise. Rafael de Acha's direction is sensitive and swift. And the best performances -- from Euriamis Losada's irresistible Romeo to Kimberly Daniel's humorous and heartbreaking nurse -- offer revealing, shining facets of Shakespeare's genius. Romeo and Juliet alone has been the source of everything from great scores by Berlioz and Prokofiev to unforgettable ballets by John Cranko and Kenneth Macmillan as well as for West Side Story. But the play's the thing. So is the impossibly generous spirit that actors reveal as they bring to life the miracle that is Shakespeare's language. This Romeo and Juliet is not perfect, but it works. De Acha's clever editing makes the five-act play move fast in merely two. By the end, Losada's Romeo has the audience in tears. Losada, who will return as Bassanio and Macduff in The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth, is quite a find. Even opposite Cecilia Torres' clueless Juliet, Losada makes a sexy, fiery, impossibly young Romeo. Like Daniel as the nurse, Losada also persuades us that American English is the ideal instrument for Shakespeare's glorious verbal music. The fights, choreographed by Associate Director Ricky J. Martinez, are brilliantly staged: There is real danger here. Come to think of it, there is real life in the Shakespeare Project 2005. (Through July 3 at New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables. Call 305-443-5909.)
A Bad Friend: Jules Feiffer's memory play about Brooklyn in the 1950s resounds as a cautionary tale for the United States in the 21st Century. This terrific production, directed by Joseph Adler, is ambitious and intimate, a provocative series of family snapshots that evokes the history of an era. It's about McCarthyism, the Hollywood blacklist, lost illusions, and regained hope. It's about a young girl's coming of age and perhaps about a nation's losing its way. Written in 2003, the story is fitting for a time when the extreme right is playing on a people's fears and hatreds, narrowly redefining patriotism as evangelical zeal in full flower, banishing responsible dissent ruthlessly, and challenging every dissenter's own patriotism in ways that make McCarthy's antics of the '50s seem positively tame. Starring Avi Hoffman, Lauren Feldman, Tracey Moore, Andy Quiroga, Kevin Reilley, and Nick Velkov. (Through June 26 at GableStage, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables. Call 305-446-1116.)
The four secretaries who are the characters in Hold Please, the Women's Theatre Project's current comedy, work in drearily uninspiring confines. We see their paltry break room and its minifridge, their small desks littered with stuffed animals and figurines. We see them hoard half-and-half and steal one another's Nutter Butters. But don't think these women are powerless. The story opens with the punishment of one of the male partners by way of the sexual-harassment policy. The charges are bogus, orchestrated by one of our four secretaries, but the man is fired anyway. Hold Please is a wicked delight not because of its post-feminist observations but because playwright Annie Weisman provides a deliciously dark caricature of the workplace. Anybody who has worked in an office will revel in the pettiness and backstabbing. We know these characters. The challenge for director Genie Croft and the four players is in the comic timing that is this play's lifeblood. Mostly, the cast nails it; the rest of the time, it's close enough. The temptation must have been to tone down the over-the-top characters. But the performers let it rip and go for the laughs. Good choice. (Through June 26 at the Studio, 640 N. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-462-2334.)
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