In the tap room of the Mad Swede Brewing Company, two households, both alike in dignity, mingle in passion and laughter. The Boise Bard Players’ neat, compactly staged Romeo and Juliet is delightful and honest, not at all a paint-by-numbers tragedy but something fresh and bleeding.

To start with, our eponymous pair comes to as total, lovable, utter derps. Romeo (Davey Collins) swooning with poetry, will crumple to the floor or table at the slightest hesitation, a falling top of love (which makes his decent into rage or despair tastily terrifying: Romeo is totally out of his depth and slides towards death and oblivion with the manic grin of one who sees no other path). Juliet (Hayden Pedersen) carves the gawkiness of her charge into something so sweetly sad. Her first appearance shows up clutching Sarah J. Maas’s notoriously smutty A Court of Mist and Fury where a decreeing eye can see bristling with post-it notes (“My Only Love Sprung From My Only Hate!” is not a melodramatic cry but a revelation of delighted joy.) Her wide-eyed tight-smiled navigation of her family (coldly decorous Edith Grace Dull and seething Danny Vogt, who makes Lord Capulet an equal opportunity abuser) proved pity as well as laughter. Together they are adorably funny. The balcony scene begins with Pedersen blowing out a breath in a bugle call of helpless youths from time in memorial while Collins sits below second guessing himself (“Should I speak at this?” he begs us, enraptured and torn and confused and bold by turns).

Other fine performances comes from Spencer Beal as Friar Laurence, whose sturdy, swaying presence over the play bends and finally cracks with sorrow, and Sasha Allen-Greive doubling as the waggish and wankish Mercutio and a surprising star turn as the County Paris, king of the popped collar and brow raised sunglass, a kind and genuine but still undeniable d*ck. The dialog did often flow little too fast for the ear to follow and the decision to spare audiences the chance of a gouged eye or a smashed ale and have the vast majority of sword fighting take place in the parking lot was interesting. The safety concerns in that inmate space are valid, and the large windows of the Mad Swede allowed for a clear view of the dancing rapiers but it did add a Brechtian distance to the proceedings.

The production is honest and earnest and funny without sacrificing the poetry of the script and cleverness of the production (the costume distinctions of Montague’s with variations on a moon and star motif and Capulet’s with a golden sun, sparked brightly in the text). And as always, as the actors bent expertly around tables and bellied up between patrons at the bar served too et us all right in the action. Arriving early cannot be stressed enough in order to find a clear view the action, but the actors and direction ensure there’s not a bad seat in the house, and the ale-greased laughter flowed freely.

Pedersen and Collins show us the immortal lovers as a matched pair of absolute spoons. Their scenes together crackle with affection, and sparkle with their actors sense of humor, while still eliciting creased, brows, furrowed mouths, and onionéd eyes from their audience. Even their deaths, decidedly unglamorous (Collins trying to fold himself into his beloveds arms at double time in the midst of his death cramps; Pedersen crying in agony and hunched over her happy dagger), temper the tragedy with realness and tear away the veil of romances that pretties up the tale. These were kids, their love was true, but whatever the stars, or Fate, or weird whisperings of the music say, this could have been avoided, and their deaths were wastes.

Originally posted on Facebook by Ben Kemper on March 27, 2022. Ben is a local actor and storyteller in Boise, Idaho.