Romeo and Juliet, Bowen Park Theatre. With new artistic director Maggie Speer at the helm, Bowen Park Theatre opens its season with an auspicious production of this well-worn classic. Here Verona is a hood where bored teenagers neglected by their status-conscious parents have nothing better to do than look for trouble, where even playful roughhousing among friends reflects a pervasive casual violence, and street squabbles are settled with exotic, deadly martial-arts weapons. There is no mistaking the universe of this highly original staging as anything but the world of today–a point Speer emphasizes by having much of the onstage action emerge from the audience area.

Under her vigorous direction, the mostly youthful players deliver intensely physical performances (kudos to R&D Choreography for its combat design) yet sacrifice none of the verbal sensitivity required for this most lyrical of the Bard’s Greatest Hits. Linh Thanh Pham and Joanie Schultz give the impulsive lovers a sweetly adolescent exuberance; Stephen Dunn and Brad Wadle make Mercutio and Tybalt a pair of self-destructive young titans; and female gangbangers among the Montague and Capulet sidekicks make for some interesting group dynamics. The ineffectual adult role models are ably represented by C.C. Cook as a blustering Lord Capulet, Mary Johnson as a dithering Nurse, and Roger Lentz as a professorial Friar Lawrence.

–Mary Shen Barnidge