romeoandjuliet Know what Shakespeare doesn’t do especially well? Write love stories. He’s great with character, he’s impossibly clever, he excels at imaginative plots, his prose can stop you in your tracks, he’s a philosopher (and sometimes even a bit of a sociologist) in his own right. But when he does love, somehow it never quite convinces.

That, of course, is really the point of Romeo and Juliet, and it demonstrates a certain obtuseness that we who have chronologically succeeded the Bard have placed this play among the pantheon of boy-meets-girl tales. Because Romeo and Juliet are two idiot kids, who may know plenty about hormones, petulant obsessiveness, and the juvenile need for instant gratification, but they know nothing about substantive romantic love.

Shakespeare makes this amply clear, and Long Beach Shakespeare seems to grasp this in their production.

If you don’t know, Juliet is the 13-year-old only child of Lord Capulet, one of the biggest men in Verona. The Capulets are in something of a feud with city’s other major family, the Montagues, of which young Romeo (we’re never given an age, but he would seem to be a teenager, too) is a member.

As the play opens, Romeo is—or thinks he is—head-over-heels in love for Rosaline, of whom he says, “[T]he all-seeing sun / Ne’er saw her match since first the world begun.” But then Romeo and his pals sneak into a Capulet ball and he beholds the fair Juliet, and in a moment it’s, “Rosaline who?”

Juliet is just as instantly “love”struck, but she has a bit more of an excuse: she’s betrothed to Count Paris in what is presumably a marriage of convenience for the Capulet family, and she desperately wants out. Thus do we see Shakespeare talking not so much about love but how often we involve ourselves in romantic alliances that have really nothing to do with such depth of feeling.

Complicating things for the young lovers is the antipathy the Capulets and Montagues bear each other, as feud turns to blood feud and Shakespeare works out what is really the play’s strongest theme: the needless destructiveness—and immaturity—of kin wars. “A plague on both your houses,” Romeo’s pal Mercutio yells while dying from a wound he suffered for taking Romeo’s part (which, in his immaturity, he was all too eager to do).

Romeo and Juliet opens with a battle between these factions, and right off the bat we see some of the good and the bad of this show. For whatever reasons, the one-on-one swordplay in LB Shake’s production is excellent—in fact, it’s downright scary in such a confined space—while the group fights are unnecessarily pumped up and unconvincing.

There’s a similar inconsistency in the blocking. Entrances sometimes move from one moment to the next, and while Romeo’s first appearance at Juliet’s famous balcony necessitates his climbing up and down (very cutely done), later he’s able to leap to the ground. Couple that with some sloppy dramaturgy (Peter talks of his readiness to draw his sword, though he’s not wearing one; Romeo talks of Tybalt’s being covered in a bloody sheet, but there’s no sheet to be seen), and this production is not one of director Helen Borgers’s most meticulous efforts.

On the other hand, Borgers ha’s made some good casting choices and directed them well. Nathan Dean Snyder and Summer Blake play the eponymous lovers with the requisite immaturity. Snyder is downright whiny at the beginning of the play’s second half—and it works perfectly. Meanwhile, Kyle Conley’s Mercutio is an excellent combo of testosterone-driven adolescent weirdness, and Rebecca Rodriguez does a solid turn as Juliet’s nursemaid, mumbling lines to herself that helps keep the Shakespearean language coming off as natural.

Written while Shakespeare may have still been in his 20s, Romeo and Juliet does not show us the Bard in his literary maturity. But he was advanced enough to say what he wanted to say. LB Shake’s production is not perfect, but at least they properly hear what he was saying.