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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
Romeo and Juliet
By Sonia Pilcer
Why attend another production of Romeo and Juliet? Haven't most people seen the play, not to mention West Side Story,and some might have even viewed the recent video of Leonardo di Caprio as Romeo? Why indeed? Because once again, Shakespeare and Company offer us their own plucky, original version of this most familiar and woeful tale.
To begin with, the setting of the play is pure magic. We walk through the woods where strange Elizabethan types greet you with their warmest smiles and most theatrical stances. Past The Mount, Edith Wharton's home, which finally appears to be on the mend. And then one enters the "theater", except this theater is a secret enclave in the forest. We're in Midsummer Night's Dream. The audience, seated in beach chairs, stares into the woods. Tonight is a celebration! Artistic Director Tina Packer welcomes the audience, telling them about the company's twenty-two years at The Mount. A move is imminent. Show time.
A chorus of women emerge slowly, chanting the opening speech. More and more actors dash onto the stage. Beautiful young actors in colorful costumes, speaking the speech with clarity and passion.
And what speeches! Shakespeare's wonderful puns about heads and maidenheads as he contemplated love's infelicities. We are introduced to an attractive, multi-cultural cast, which breaks our Western European expectations. Though the story is set in Verona, this is a world cast. This choice helps us to look at the story anew.
Manu Narayan's Romeo is a bit of a romantic fool, or he seems to me, well past the first bloom of love. The play opens with his rapture over Rosalind, and then shortly afterwards, his love shifts to exotic Juliet. This is a dimunitive, love-sick Romeo. Not exactly a matinee idol.
I've always thought of Juliet as a Gwyneth Paltrow type - light-skinned, blond, lovely. Carolyn Roberts' Juliet is certainly a beauty, but in a strongly ethnic way. She dazzles in golden jewelry, her long black hair, white gown, which emphasizes the hue of her golden skin.
During their famous balcony scene, performed in what looks like a loft with a fancy banister, they are playful as kittens. The love at first sight might be difficult to swallow for this playgoer, but the two lovers look as if they belong together. Perhaps a bit too much like brother and sister. "Give me my sin again," Romeo croons. "You kiss by the book," Juliet retorts.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy in the play is that we lose Mercutio so soon. He has the language of angels. As played by Jason Asprey he is an attractive, dreamy, somewhat off the wall young man. The actor handles the long Queen Mab speech with great elan. The duel between Mercutio and Ted Hewlett's Tybalt is a sight to behold.
Kevin G. Coleman substituted as Lord Capulet, normally played by Johnny Lee Davenport. He is the fight choreographer for the production. His Capulet is magisterial, but a fool, who forces his daughter's hand. Bonnie Lee Whang, as Lady Capulet is so gorgeously exotic on stage that it's hard to think of her as maternal.
Juliet's Nurse has many of the best lines of the play. As acted by Ariel Bock, she is earthy and funny, a wise old crone. Another treat of seeing this company is recalling these actors' other roles. I recall Ariel Bock as the seductress in Private Eyes, which co-starred Malcolm Ingram, who is Friar Lawrence (our review).
John Rahal Sarrouf as Benvolio is a pleasure to watch as are Ty Skelton's platinum-hair glam-rockstar Count Paris, and Tom Jaeger as Peter, a queen, dressed in coats of many colors. Generally, the costuming goes against convention. Several of us wondered why so many men were sported capri pants or what we used to call pedal pushers. Are these the ¾ pants in Gap ads? Jason Asprey's Mercutio is dressed like Mark Morris in a black feather boa. The androgyny and feminization of the male characters is curious as are the strange futuristic gowns of Juliet and her mother.
This is truly an ensemble show, which engages nearly forty actors. There are actors everywhere: in the woods, on the stage, under the balcony. All seem to be performing the rigors of their characters, even if we at times have no idea what they are actually doing.
I found the first half of the production to be more effective than the second half. These actors bring great joie de vivre to their roles, but when the play shifts into its darker register, and demands reservoirs of deep emotion from the actors, they were less convincing. But the fault might be Mr. Shakespeare's or mine.
All in all, a lovely experience for an evening in the Berkshires.