Review: Elizabeth Olsen shines 'Romeo and Juliet'

This photo released by The Publicity Office shows, from left, Elizabeth Olsen and Julian Cihi in a scene from Shakespeare’s "Romeo & Juliet," currently performing off-Broadway at Classic Stage Company in New York. (AP Photo/The Publicity Office, Joan Marcus)

NEW YORK (AP) — William Shakespeare's romantic tragedy "Romeo an d Juliet" easily lends itself to modern interpretations, with its ageless story of young lovers forever trapped in their cycle of doom.

Classic Stage Company is presenting an energetic contemporary version, directed by Tea Alagic and starring Elizabeth Olsen and Julian Cihi as the heedless couple that opened off-Broadway Wednesday night.

Alagic spices up the story of two feuding families with Spanish interjections, dynamically choreographed fight scenes, and a flamboyant performance by Daphne Rubin-Vega, who comically portrays the Nurse as a flouncing Latina spitfire in huge platform shoes. Minimal set, moody music and stark lighting heighten the tension and sense of foreboding.

Olsen shines brightly as a fresh, mercurial Juliet, by turns spunky and then earnest as she plots to deceive her parents and be with Romeo. Cihi conveys an appealing naivete and lithe, sensuous grace, although his Romeo is occasionally bland. For some reason, there's no balcony in their famous balcony scene, and Romeo runs around the invisible garden several times, but the pair remain convincing in their youthful, impetuous passion.

Other standouts among the talented supporting cast include Daniel Davis as Friar Laurence, at first benignly confident and then mournfully regretful when his plot goes tragically awry. T.R. Knight gives an impish, bad-boy energy to Mercutio, and David Garrison is thoroughly bullying as the unpleasant Lord Capulet.

Alagic sometimes lets the action overshadow the dialogue, as when tattooed, bare-chested antagonists prowl menacingly around one another in the testosterone-laden fight scenes. Some actors let their dialogue quickly tumble out, which conveys their characters' recklessness but clouds the poetry of the text. Most jarringly, Romeo wears a huge Winnie the Pooh head at the masked ball when he first meets Juliet.

Although we don't see a traditional "fair Verona" onstage, we still experience the tragic waste of young lives in this spirited remake.