Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Directed by Jonathan Croy
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"How art thou out of breath when thou hast breath to say to me thou art out of breath?"
Jonathan Croy has had ample opportunity over the past several seasons at Shakespeare and Company to prove he is a master of the farcical form. His excellent sense of timing, his physical and vocal confusion, his facial expressions that say five times more than his spoken lines would allow are proof of this mastery. He has applied some of that creative genius for comedy to his production of Romeo and Juliet currently running at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the Shakespeare and Company campus in Lenox, MA.
What? You say? A farcical Romeo and Juliet? How crass! How intolerable!! How now, I say to you, now how! Croy’s production, which has toured New England, is a wonder. The timing and magical character switches, as seven actors play nineteen roles, keep an audience as wide awake as it keeps the actors hopping.
There is a danger in plays such as this one. We’ve seen it all before. Whether one of the film versions, or another stage production - professional or high school - we have pretty much seen this before. We can speak the speeches alongside the actors or quote the lines in the bathtub. At the pace Croy has set his clever cast, however, it’s hard to even murmur a "But soft! What light by yonder window breaks..." without missing the same-voiced response "It is the east and Juliet is the sun" because the boy Romeo is already long beyond that point in the script.
This energy is dynamic rather than funny, human instead of comical. The anger, lust and joy are brought to bear in a brisk, light way, just as they might happen in real life rather than on a classical stage. Juliet is not yet fourteen. Romeo is older but still a child in his romantic affiliations, skipping from a lover who taunts him to one who has not yet the capacity to tease. Friends, families, servants all achieve their aims quickly and to the point. Even Juliet’s faithful Nurse fall under the quixotic spell of the pace of old Verona, where the scene is laid.
Alyssa Hughlett is a bright, tomboyish Juliet whose aggressive nature is well-suited to the impulses brought about by her first love. She sees Romeo, wants him and gets him. Even her great loss, her cousin Tybalt, cannot dispel her passion for her new illicit husband.
Benjamin Brinton is a Romeo who, on the surface would not necessarily inspire passion. He is a tall drink of water who should suffer under the thumb of a manipulative young woman. When he falls in lust for Juliet, just as she does for him, he becomes a man, a person with convictions. His remarkable transition during the garden/balcony scene is perfect, especially at this lust-engendered pace.
Daniel Kurtz is a fine Tybalt, a pushy Paris, a pubescent Prince Escalus. Sean Kazarian is a perfect Mercutio, a fine and brutal Capulet, a funny Sampson. Kelley Johnston does well, especially as Balthasar and Kaitlin J. Henderson is a wonderful Lady Capulet, a dynamic Benvolio and a hysterically funny Sister Joan (formerly Friar John).
Paul D’Agostino is simply amazing. Starting out as Gregory, one of the funny servants in the opening scene, he quickly undertakes the role of Nurse which he handles brilliantly. Before the first half of the play has ended he has also morphed into Friar Lawrence. At one point, a decidedly theatrical and farcical one, he transforms from one to the other in full view of the audience and no one cares. He is just that good.
Govane Lohbauer’s costumes are beautiful and the simple set by Ian P. Guzzione with Kiki Smith and Janet Kalas works to the advantage of the play and its pacing. Greg Solomon creates some very pretty pictures with his moody lighting. The fight choreography is by Jonathan Croy and it has a magic all it’s own.
This production doesn’t stick around very long, so see it while you can. The show runs two hours, exactly, with one intermission and the second act is not played at the same frenzied pace as the first so you do stop laughing and can let the tragedy unfold naturally. Croy has managed the balance perfectly and this production with young players who all seem to have illuminated futures before them brings you to the place you wanted to be when you first thought of buying a ticket. So buy one. Forsooth.
Alyssa Hughlett and Ben Brinton; photo: Kevin Sprague
Daniel Kurtz as Paris; photo: Kevin Sprague
Paul D'Agostino as Friar Lawrence; photo: Kevin Sprague
Romeo and Juliet plays at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, MA through June 7. For schedules and tickets, call the box office at 413-637-3353.