Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Romeo and Juliet
Before a word is spoken, in silhouette and hues of black and white, the actors walk about behind a scrim. They proceed slowly, and sounds of a drum distinctly mark their movements. It brings to mind the slow-walk technique utilized by the Japanese theater innovator Tadashi Suzuki. This opening is all Lamos's. The imagery is transportive and clearly sets the mood for the productiondoom is impending. After the see-through curtain lifts, we see a three-sided mural, designed by the award winning Michael Yeargan, which depicts life in what one assumes is Verona.
As ever, the story begins with the feud in Verona between the Capulets and Montagues. Romeo (James Cusati-Moyer) is going to a masked ball where he sees Juliet (Nicole Rodenburg). Tybalt (Dave Register), a Capulet, discovers that the disguised Romeo is a Montague. Juliet by now has completely fallen for Romeo. During the imminent balcony scene, she admits she is in love, but director Lamos presents her as a relatively subdued Juliet. Costumer Fabian Fidel Aguilar has Juliet outfitted in a long, formless dress which covers her from neck to foot. Romeo and Juliet decide they will marry and do so with the assistance of Romeo's friend Friar Laurence (Peter Francis James).
The second portion of this presentation begins, again, with a briefer behind-the-scrim moment before yielding to sword fighting. Romeo's best friends are Benvolio (Tyler Fauntleroy) and Mercutio (Patrick Andrews). Tybalt sees Romeo and wants to get into a fight. He duels with Mercurio and kills him. Incensed, Romeo slays Tybalt after these two wrestle. Michael Rossmy is fight director for the scene and the actors are disciplined, skilled, and their movements are precisely choreographed.
Midway through the second and longer component of the production, Romeo and Juliet again appear on the balcony. This time, Juliet wears semi-transparent nightgown-like garb. The two young people are now erotic and physical, even if they mostly hug. Should they be star-crossed, Romeo and Juliet feel destined to be with one another forever.
As one who still admires Mark Lamos's 1995 production of Romeo and Juliet at Hartford Stage (starring Robert Petkoff and Calista Flockhart), it was impossible for me not to anticipate and also wonder what he would now render. Yeargan designed then as he does now; he and Lamos have worked together on many a show. The WCP depiction is, at times, minimalist and markedly lacking lush settings, different from my memory of the Hartford Stage show.
Lamos has chosen two lead actors who seem to be the age of college undergraduates (even if they are probably, in actuality, a few years older). They are not ornately dressed and, if anything, seem to be "normal" rather than wildly alluring or sexy. All of this meshes well with the director's vision. Romeo and Juliet on the playhouse stage is a group triumph. The flashing of swords, by Andrews, Register, and Cusati-Moyer, is, for sure, a memorable highlight. Rodenburg and Cusati-Moyer play Juliet and Romeo as youthful individuals with strengths and weaknesses. Their performances are admirably detailed and carefully drawn. Lamos, once a fine actor and now a highly perceptive director, creates with insight and care.
Romeo and Juliet continues at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut through November 19th, 2017. For tickets, call (203) 227-4177 or visit www.WestportPlayhouse.org.