Matt Ritchey’s ‘Romeo and Juliet In Hell’ Exposes the Funnier Side of Eternal Damnation

By Ernest Kearney  —  Romeo and Juliet in Hell, written and directed by Matt Ritchey, currently being staged at the Actor’s Workout Studio is a rough and tough, rather ribald, ride.

Romeo (Colton Butcher) and Juliet (Lauren Diaz) awkwardly awake from their final tragic scene in the Capulet crypt to the ultimate “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Verona anymore” moment.

The star-crossed lovers are in Hell. 

Not just any ol’ slimy, over-heated, brimstoney Hell, but a special wing exclusively for the deserving characters of Shakespeare; Laertes (David Chernyavsky) I assume because he poisoned Hamlet, King Lear (Ron Gabaldon) his pride led to bloody warfare, Mercutio (Nick Ley) maybe because he was so mercurial, Othello (Brenton Sullivan) did strangle his wife to death, Lady Macbeth (Therese Olson) and hubby Lord Macbeth (Graydon Schlichter) because they were Scottish, Tybalt (Carlos Chavez) because after John Leguizamo, all “Tybalts” are going to Hell, and Desdemona (Chloe Zubiri) because she….er…lost handkerchiefs.

This section of Hell apparently also has a pair of resident demons in the form of the violin femme (Jennifer Novak Chun) whose music teacher was Hieronymus Bosch and Tony (J. Elijah Cho) who is a purveyor guilty of the vilest of vile sins – Broadway musicals!

Oh, and the ruler of this Hell, is second in command to Rosier the sub-prince in the order of Dominions, that well-known incubi Bob Fosse (Kawika Aguilar).

So, after Romeo and Juliet find themselves in Hell, they are greeted by Tybalt and Mercutio who provide them with their new residents onboarding to Hell.

What follows is some sinful silliness, a helluva lot of Shakespearian in-jokes, a bunch of theatrical wisecracking and a great deal of fun all in the vein of Christopher Durang’s 1981 snicker-fest The Actor’s Nightmare.

The cast at the Actor’s Workout Studio offers some gems in the performances, such as Diaz’s Juliet with the self-slaughtering dagger still inconveniently sticking out of her, Chavez’s Tybalt and the slightly insane Lady Macbeth as portrayed by OlsonAguilar’s Fosse is pretty spot-on too. 

The staging of Romeo and Juliet in Hell does suffer from a limited budget (the Hell most Los Angeles-waver productions are condemned to), and Ritchey’s direction seemed rushed, which left me liking what I could see in the play more than what I saw on stage.

However, these were reflections arrived at after leaving the theatre.  While there, I was too busy laughing to notice.

If you don’t believe that humor covers all sins, seeing Ritchey’s devilishly funny play will convince you otherwise.


Romeo and Juliet in Hell

Playing now thru November 23


The Actor’s Workout Studio
4735 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91602
For Tickets Go To:

Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at and Follow him on Facebook.

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