Westport Country Playhouse (WCP) closes its 2017 season with a lavish production of “Romeo and Juliet,” and, in one sense its opening night began with a bang in the form of unexpected, fire alarm sirens. Of their own accord, many prudent individuals that had gathered in the lobby before entering the theatre evacuated, in an orderly fashion, to the outdoor porch. There they waited patiently in the chilly night for an announcement about what was happening. The circulating rumor was that someone must have opened an emergency exit – but the crowd wasn’t taking any chances. The announcement that finally came was that the Fire Department was on its way to shut off the theatre’s alarm system. The actual cause of the alarm sounding was the stage’s malfunctioning, smoke-making machine. It’s nice to know that the theatre’s fire alarms are working well, and that the play went on without any further incidents.
It’s a rare treat these days to see “Romeo and Juliet” performed in the correct time period and we’re glad that WCP Artistic Director, Mark Lamos, had a mission to produce it for the very first time at this historic theatre. The tragic story of these two, doomed lovers — children of enemy families, is familiar to every literate person around the world. It’s therefore not necessary to repeat all the details except to say that it’s quite evident that a lot of research went into this fine production.
Once again, award-winning Scenic Designer, Michael Yeargan takes center stage with a magnificent, background painting of a busy, Medieval street scene. In following through with this theme, Costume Designer, Favian Fidel Aguilar accurately reproduces its colorful costumes.
However, there are some technical flaws that interrupt this otherwise smooth production.
One of the painted towers that contains Juliet’s balcony, slides back and forth too obviously and like a robot, this section of scenery takes on a character of its own. Its height also separates the lovers. Because the couple is forced to woo from afar, we hardly feel the emotional impact of their words. It isn’t until their death scenes that we discover the strength of their attraction.
Unfortunately, Juliet’s transition from her bedroom to the underground catacomb is also unclear when Juliet’s bed, with her still lying upon the bedding, miraculously transforms into a bare platform. Thus, when Juliet awakes from the secret potion she took earlier, her gory observations about dead relatives, whom she now recognizes, make no sense – unless you have some hints of an underground tomb, other than a plain, white backdrop.
The play itself is quite enjoyable. Stealing the show are Patrick Andrews’ (Mercutio) and Felicity Jones Latta (Juliet’s nurse). The taunting and the realistic sword fights, all timed to the rhythm of Shakespeare’s couplets, make his ancient English easy to understand. The obviously, well-versed audience gobbled everything up, laughed heartily at every crude joke, and gave the cast a standing ovation.