Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, May 2009
“Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.”
– Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene iii
Romeo does not listen to Friar Laurence when he gives that advice. Young people never listen when we old folks tell them to slow down, be patient, time will tell. Romeo, who is maybe 16, and Juliet, 13, are in such a hurry that they meet, marry, and die in less than a week. Would they have lived to bounce their grandchildren on their knees if they had been in less of a hurry? Maybe, but then we wouldn’t have this grand play.
In a production of Romeo and Juliet designed to tour and be performed primarily for high school and college-aged audiences, Jonathan Croy has everything happening at top speed. The entire show, including intermission, clocks in at two hours and twenty minutes. Seven young actors play all the essential roles, zipping on and off stage and in and out of costumes at breakneck speed.
Croy knows his audience – he has been directing high school productions for Shakespeare and Company’s Fall Festival of Shakespeare for many years. He knows what grabs the attention of the adolescent – noise, movement, color, and, of course, sex. There’s plenty of sex in Romeo and Juliet When I was in the eleventh grade we were taught to recognize a Shakespearean sex joke at twenty paces. I have no idea why this was considered an integral part of our education. Its major effect on my adult life has been to enable me to embarrass myself on a regular basis by laughing loudly at lines no one else laughs at, so that everyone, including the actors on stage, looks at me funny. Croy obviously had the same training I did, and he has his actors punch up every bit of bawdiness until we get it, already. But I was glad not to be the only one laughing for once.
And while some adults may find Croy’s production a little frenetic and Mercutio’s early scenes a bit too raucously randy, we all enjoy remembering what it was like when everything was so new, so exciting, and so intense.
As I mentioned before, this production was designed to tour and it was designed as “educational theatre.” Touring productions of abbreviated scripts are nothing new to Shakespeare & Company, Founding Artistic Director Tina Packer launched the company’s now extensive and world-renowned educational programs shortly after she assembled her company. Training the next generation of actors and getting young people excited about Shakespeare as been the company’s raison d’être, and this program, which trains and employs young actors as well as performing for young audiences, does both.
These touring productions often return home to Lenox for a couple of performances during their run, but they are usually scheduled during the school day or are not heavily promoted by the company. This time the homecoming of the Spring Tour is officially opening the Shakespeare & Company summer season with a two-week run at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre. This young troupe has four months of performances under their belts, and they are comfortable and polished on stage.
Even in this most familiar of Shakespearean plays (I think only Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are produced with more frequency), the early scenes, filled with minor characters giving us expository details, get a little confusing. Actors are doubling and tripling up in roles and playing against gender, and everyone is the same age. I was completely confused when Alyssa Hughlett, who spends the rest of the play in the role of Juliet, appeared in an early scene as Lady Montague. Although Hughlett is a college graduate, she is a slight woman and can easily pass for the 13-year-old Juliet, but not so easily as Romeo’s mother.
That small quibble aside, Hughlett is a lovely, feisty Juliet, well matched by Benjamin Brinton’s slightly geeky Romeo. AS mentioned above Hughlett does make a brief early appearance in another role, as does Brinton, but once they take the stage in the title roles they play no other parts and the entire weight of the play falls on the shoulders of the five remaining players.
While playing multiple roles is supposed to stretch the young performers and allow them to show other facets of their talent, Sean Kazarian plays only forceful men. In the first half he is Sampson and Mercutio, both boisterous lads, and after intermission he switches to Lord Capulet in the famous scene in which he strikes both his wife and daughter in anger at Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris.
Kaitlyn J. Henderson gets to show real range as the rowdy Benvolio in the first half and the restrained Lady Capulet in the second. Paul D’Agostino also plays both genders as Juliet’s foolish Nurse and the couple’s staunch ally Friar Laurence. At one moment he shed his drag ensemble revealing his monk’s robes underneath, morphing seamlessly from Nurse to Friar in a matter of seconds.
Daniel Kurtz plays the hot-headed and ill-fated Tybalt, the Prince, and Juliet’s other finance, Paris. Kelley Johnston is underused in the small roles of Balthasar, Peter, and Lord Montague. If you have only seven people in your cast why not use all of them to the max?
As a touring production, this Romeo and Juliet has a playful but minimal set designed by Ian P. Guzzone with Kiki Smith and Janet Kalas. I loved the swirly, curly golden hearts hidden throughout. Marc Scipione has created an evocative and effective sound design, and Govane Lohbauer has done her usual exquisite job with the costumes.
This is excellent beginner’s Shakespeare. If you want to introduce middle- or high-school aged youngsters of your acquaintance to the Bard, or if you have been shy of Shakespeare yourself because of the length of the productions, hurry up and get tickets before this brief two-week run is over. If you are a purist who wants to hear every word from every folio pronounced trippingly on the tongue, better stay home. But for folks of all ages who enjoy seeing and hearing Shakespeare performed with vigor and joy, this production is an excellent choice.
Shakespeare & Company's production of Romeo and Juliet will be performed through June 7 in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the Kemble Street campus in Lenox, MA. The show runs two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission and is suitable for ages 10 and up.
The Bernstein is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. Performances in the evenings run at 8:30 p.m. and in the afternoons at 3:00 p.m. Tickets range from $12 to $48. For a complete listing of productions and schedules, to inquire about student, Senior, Berkshire resident and Rush Tix, or to receive a brochure, please visit the website at www.shakespeare.org or call the Box Office at (413) 637-3353. For group visits, contact Group Sales Manager Victoria Vining at (413) 637-1199 ext. 132.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2009