Romeo and Juliet – Review by Tom Nissley

“Romeo and Juliet” at Westport Playhouse, through November 19

A full moon rises softly through the mist and several hundred persons are watching it from the Playhouse porch because another mist has caused them to evacuate the theatre (November 4) until the Fire Department resets the alarms. Opening night for a splendiferous, over-the-top, no-holding-back, production of Shakespeare’s wonderful story of the star-crossed lovers who, by virtue of some unintended consequences, brought to an unhappy end Verona’s most famous of all family feuds.

Although I’ve seen this play many times and in many variations, I think I have never seen it on such a beautiful set. The stage has been turned into something that is operatic in scope, with a projection of a great tapestry-like painting of Verona’s city square. The house of Capulets on one side. The house of Montague on the other. Different drop-ins and drop-outs change the setting temporarily. And the costumes are magnificent, too. Everyone seems to belong in the painting.

But, a touch bored by all this perfection, I begin thinking about what really must be there? What are the basic elements necessary for a good Romeo-Juliet?

First of all, a pair of teenagers who are ready to fall in love. Then a nurse who is comedic and attached to Juliet, A friend and cousin who is attached to Romeo (Mercurio). Another hot-headed cousin who is related to Juliet (Tibault). A friendly Friar Lawrence who has already followed Romeo’s adolescent romantic fantasies, and is willing to help the youngsters exchange vows. Then there’s a rich suitor who likes Juliet’s looks. And finally, some rather inadequate parents who do next-to-nothing to counsel their kids wisely. In fact, those parents are a significant part of Shakespeare’s plot. When Juliet complains that she is too young to consider marriage (to Paris), her mother shrugs and says she was about Juliet’s age when she married. Even the nurse tells Juliet that she should consider Paris, because he’s nice looking. But it is Juliet’s father who takes the cake in parenting, when he advises Juliet that who she will marry is strictly up to him, and that if she doesn’t like his choice and timing, he will disinherit her and make her homeless, immediately.

Now it’s this particular point I want to pick on, because though it comes late in the script, it illustrates beautifully what is terribly wrong with this production. When Capulet (Triney Sandoval) is exhorting Juliet to do his bidding, or else, he practically blows himself up on stage, as if trying to have a heart attack, or cause a heart attack. He shrieks, yells, throws his arms about, makes a fist, a living exclamation point! But why? That might be one way to act the script, if you were trying for who’s who in Eighth Grade English. There is no need to throw yourself around on the stage of a distinguished production. You can whisper the words and they have more effect. ‘Do what I say, or get out of this house. You’re old enough. I want you married.’ Allowing the thought to sting Juliet, without having it projected into the parking lot, would have been much more powerful, and I’m sorry that Mark Lamos, who directed the production, allowed it, or, even worse, might have prompted it.

Because it’s not inconsistent with other over-acting and thumping and bumping though-out the play. It is often possible to over-act the script. Whether it serves the script to do so is part of the great dialogue of Shakespeare scholars and directors and lovers everywhere. I believe that this production would have been better served with a subtler approach to most of the action.

Several excellent performances should be mentioned. I’d give great praise to Patrick Andrews for his Mercutio. Over the top, yes, but great fun. Some praise to Felicity Jones Latta’s’ rendition of Juliet’s nurse. More to Peter Francis James’ Friar Lawrence. I liked Tyler Fauntleroy’s gentle approach to Benvolio, and I thought that James Cusati-Moyer was a splendid Romeo.

The sets (Michael Yeargan), costumes (Fabian Fidel Aguilar), lighting (Matthew Richards) and sound design (David Budries) contributed so much to this production that they must be mentioned.

For more information or tickets, go to www.westportplayhouse.org, or call 203-227-4177.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre. Posted November 5, 2017

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