Monday, April 16, 2012

Romeo and Juliet

Juliet shines in Great Lakes Theatre’s ROMEO AND JULIET

ROMEO AND JULIET, the tale of star-crossed lovers, is considered one of Shakespeare’s great plays. Filled with unbridled love, beautiful illusions, conflict, plot twists, and an emotional ending, it has all the elements of audience appealing theatre.

Interestingly, Shakespeare did not invent the plot for the play. Poet Arthur Brooks is credited with writing a tale of Romeus and Juliet in what is often referred to as a “long plodding poem.” Many of the story threads in the Bard’s version, including the lovers meeting at a ball, their instant love and secret marriage, Romeo’s fight with Juliet’s cousin, the sleeping potion, and the eventual suicides, are all “stolen” from Brooks. In Shakespeare’s hands, however, the tale is not plodding.

The story centers on a feud between the families Capulet and Montague in the city of Verona. The play starts with a battle between servants of the families and concludes with the end of the grudge.

In short, Romeo is in love with Rosaline. Rosaline deflects his attention. Benvolio, Romeo’s friend invites the melancholy youth to accompany him to a feast in order for him to relieve his depression. There Romeo sees the fair Juliet, instantly falls in love, his affections are returned by the lovely teen and, thus, a tale of forbidden love and senseless, yet poetic and dramatic deaths follow.

Great Lakes Theatre’s production of ROMEO AND JULIET, under the direction of Charles Fee has many high points. Betsy Mugavero is luminous as Juliet. She perfectly develops the child/woman qualities needed. She is as irrational as a youth should be, hits the right level of being impetuous and head strong, and makes Juliet totally believable.

Laurie Birmingham successfully textures the role of Nurse. It becomes readily apparent, due to Birmingham’s interpretation of the role, that Juliet is the product of Nurse’s constant devotion. The portrayal is filled with compassion and humor.

Lynn Robert Berg nicely develops Friar Laurence into a wise and understanding sage, helping the young lovers in their plotting. J. Todd Adams, is excellent as Mercutio, Romeo’s friend. He has a nice flair for comedy and the ironic. Laura Perrotta is correctly passionate as Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother, avoiding the common mistake of some American actors of overplaying Shakespeare.

The sword fight scenes, under the guidance of Ken Merckx, are exciting, filled with acrobatics and clever movements, including participants hanging from the scaffolding. Star Moxley’s costume designs were appropriate and the women’s garb elegant. There is some nice plot heightening underscoring music. The pacing keeps the story flowing.

On the other hand, Fee, infuses verbal and nonverbal sexual innuendos that distract from the plot line. With a large number of students coming to production, the titillation, which is unnecessary, seems inappropriate.

Aled Davis, as Juliet’s father, screamed his way through the role. There was little texturing, mainly unbridled volume. In addition, the important final scene of the play, in which the Friar summarizes the Bard’s message, was drowned out by the overdone wailing of Melissa Owens, Romeo’s mother.

Yes, Romeo is supposed to be melancholy, but Christian Durso, so underplayed the character, that the youth was almost devoid of personality. There appeared to be no real passion between him and Juliet. Even the kisses were tepid.

A major visual and audio problem was created by scenic designer Gage Williams’ set. Because of the large mid stage heavy wall, and the small size of the gate-entrance into the death vault, those audience members seated stage right and left could neither see nor hear the important scene between Romeo and Paris, just before the play’s conclusion. A high school student sitting behind me whispered to her friend, “What’s going on back there?” That’s definitely not a good sign. The set and blocking should serve the play, not obliterate important scenes, especially the climactic ones.

Capsule judgement: ROMEO AND JULIET gets a credible performance at GLT, highlighted by an enchanting performance by Betsy Mugavero as Juliet, good pacing, and some fine supporting acting, but the production does have some problematic elements.