At this point, Tim Mooney’s one-man shows are a KC Fringe Festival staple. Mooney can be counted on to provide an hour-long burst of nonstop energy as he presents whirlwind versions of (most often) established classic works. Breakneck Romeo & Juliet, currently running at the KC Fringe, does not disappoint.
Just to let us know that he intends to make good on his promise to deliver the entirety of the classic tragedy in only a single hour, the first thing Mooney does upon taking the stage is to set a digital stopwatch and leave it displayed at the base of the stage, allowing the audience to watch the minutes and seconds tick by for the entirety of the show. This tool is especially effective with regards to this particular show, which Mooney makes sure to tell us takes place over the span of just five days. Despite being widely considered one of the greatest love stories in existence, this is a play about impetuous, impulsive teenagers. “Speed,” Mooney reminds us at various points, is a “major theme in this play.” And he delivers on that theme well.
The set design is minimal—a few swaths of velvet draped over various furniture pieces—which is more than enough since Mooney never has a spare moment to interact with a set piece anyway. Transitioning seamlessly between Shakespeare’s text, his own exposition, commentary, and jokes, Mooney presents not just the content of the original play but essential and compelling context. (That Mooney takes his one-man classics on tour for students makes sense as that seems to be the ideal audience for this shows, but there’s more than enough here to keep adult and more familiar viewers engaged.)
The nature of Mooney’s abridged version highlights the comedy of Romeo and Juliet but not at the expense of the tragedy (or the romance or the action, for that matter). In fact, the setup only accentuates my favorite thing about the original play, which is that, structurally speaking, it genuinely is a comedy up until its sudden third-act turn. Mooney deftly maneuvers the show’s twists and quick-switching tones, giving each character and their journeys the weight they deserve. Mooney’s show might be a whirlwind but it is not short of humor, heart, or depth.
“Breakneck Romeo and Juliet,” part of the KC Fringe Festival, runs at The Center for Spiritual Living (1014 E 39th Street) through July 29. For more information, visit kcfringe.org.