If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
A Fast and Furious “Romeo” by CT Free Shakespeare
Producing Artistic Director Ellen Lieberman’s mission has been clear since starting Connecticut Free Shakespeare thirteen years ago: “Making Shakespeare Accessible.” Her annual outdoor summer productions at Bridgeport’s Beardsley Zoo and other Connecticut venues have drawn enthusiastic crowds and this “picnic Shakespeare” has thrived under her leadership. As the adaptor and director of the troupe’s current “Romeo and Juliet,” Lieberman has trimmed the text to almost Cliff Notes proportions and produced a fast and furious adaptation that barely pauses for breath. You won’t be bored.
The atmosphere on the Beardsley Zoo grounds remains unchanged. It’s a casual, convivial feeling with picnicking, the laughter of children, lawn chairs and blankets and, of course, all that glorious noise from the surrounding wildlife that threatens to upstage the actors at every turn. Lieberman knows her audience well and they respond in kind with generous applause after practically every scene. If the Shakespeare presented here often seems simplified or lacking in subtlety, no one in our audience was complaining on opening night.
This brings us to the play which is one of the Bard’s greatest tragedies though that may be hard to appreciate given Lieberman’s rather jolly and jocular first act. This is a production that finds time for an audience sing-along of “Que Sera Sera” and “Those Were the Days” at intermission. That musical interlude is handled, as always, by the capable and busy Eric Nyquist who, as the troupe’s musical director and choreographer, also finds time to play Mercutio in this production. He may be the company’s most valuable player.
As the star-crossed lovers, Erin Scanlon and Mark Friedlander bring sexy, youthful exuberance to their roles. If poetry and passion are sometimes lacking, their sheer vitality adds immeasurably to the success of the play. They also seem the right age which is hard to believe since Scanlon played the same role in the theatre’s 2003 production! How old was she then? Nine?? Good genes, Ms. Scanlon. Enjoy them.
While the company is a fairly even ensemble, the puzzling accents employed by Liliane Klein as Juliet’s Nurse threaten to sink an already overwrought performance and Jonathan Holtzman’s histrionics as Lord Capulet in the second act push the actor’s vocal chords to the limit. The production’s single strongest performance may be the beautifully spoken Friar Laurence of Jamil Mangan. Mr. Mangan commands every scene he is in with dignity and authority.
Lynne Porter’s impressive backdrop to the action of the play nicely adapts to several playing areas and the costumes by Solveig Pflueger and Chris Mallardi work well though it would have been nice to see more significant changes for the Capulet Ball sequence.
I’m not sure who is responsible for the music employed between scenes (Fred Santore is listed as Sound Engineer), but the almost continual scoring of Act Two gives the play a definite “movie feel.” It’s as though the audience needs to be reminded how they should be feeling throughout up to and including the tragic final scene. That finale, by the way, is the quickest death scene I’ve ever witnessed in a production of “Romeo and Juliet.” “Accessible” doesn’t mean you can’t take a little more time for the emotions to register.
“Romeo and Juliet” continues at the Beardsley Zoo through July 22 before moving to Downtown Bridgeport’s McLevy Green July 25-29 and the American Shakespeare Festival grounds August 1-5. For further information visit: www.ctfreeshakespeare.org or www.festivalstratford.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.