BWW Reviews: TAM Stages Compellingly Honest ROMEO AND JULIET
Doing justice to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, one of the most beloved and most often quoted plays in the repertoire, can be a daunting task, but the Theater at Monmouth has assembled a youthful cast and given the Bard's tragedy an honest reading - one which compensates for what it may lack in passion and abandon with sincerity and moments of striking originality.
Directed by Dawn McAndrews, the production is set in a stylized evocation of Renaissance Verona. Using a relatively bare stage and minimal props, McAndrews follows the convention of Shakespeare's day to let the audience imagine the locales. Her production stresses the immaturity and impetuousness of the lovers and the blindness of the adult world surrounding them. It is, as she puts it, "a tragedy of choice made in haste without regard for consequences." This concept fares better in the first three acts than in the last two, where we crave to believe more fervently in the all-consuming passion to which the lovers sacrifice themselves. For the most part, her blocking is skillful, and she is sensitive to both tableau and movement. The fight scenes are thrillingly devised by Paul Dennhardt and made believable by the athleticism of the actors. There are some awkward moments, however -dictated, no doubt, by practical considerations - such as the silent choreography at the ball and Mercutio's death, where the mortally wounded man is able to stand minutes before he expires. Nonetheless, she creates a sympathetic milieu, balancing humor and tragedy.
The cast is all committed and competent, though rarely does anyone sizzle with the Mediterranean passion at the core of the drama. Lindsay Tornquist is a radiant Juliet, who appears carefree and giddy in her first love, only to find her world come crashing down around her. She is a trifle slow to convey Juliet's transformation from girl to woman, but she rises to the challenge of the potion scene and the death in the tomb.
As Romeo, Leighton Samuels is a believably amorous youth who delivers the verse with a fresh, non-declamatory naturalness that - except for the occasional throw away line - makes the character that much more credible. He conveys the hormonal teenager with great sympathy; he manages the outbursts of anger, such as in stabbing Tybalt or threatening his own suicide, with a kind of latent despair, and his realistic death is not romanticized. All in all, an original take on the role.
But it is in the supporting cast that one finds some of the most striking portrayals. Outstanding in every way are Janis Stevens' Nurse, Bill Van Horn's Friar Laurence, and Will Harrell's Capulet. Stevens creates a warm, funny, bawdy, yet very human motherly figure, whose love for Juliet is palpable. Van Horn uses his resonant voice and classic delivery to lend authority to the misguided, but well meaning Friar, and Harrell is a dictatorial, patrician Capulet, who makes the supremacy of his social and familial position abundantly clear.
Michael Dix Thomas is a virile, though less mercurial than usual, Mercutio. Erica Murphy makes Benvolio a trouser role, which she pulls off with believable athleticism and compelling emotional depth. Max Waszak is a dark and menacing Tybalt; Ardarius Blakeley a stately and commanding Prince; Lisa Woods a youthful, if somewhat chilly Lady Capulet. Turner Frankowsky and Ryan Simpson round out the cast in a quartet of roles.
Stacey Koloski's spare set is eloquent in its economy. The black masked stage is dominated by a gallery cum balcony, supported by simple arches, and, as always, the production uses the boxes and thrust stage. Cecilia Durbin lights this space atmospherically, creating the appropriate contrasts between night and day, dark and light evoked in the playwright's imagery. The beauty of the starry wedding night turns achingly sad as the star-crossed lovers take their lives. One caveat is the need for longer blackouts after Tybalt's and the lovers' deaths to enable the actors to clear the stage and guard the illusion longer.
Elizabeth Rocha's costumes are tasteful, simplified silhouettes of Renaissance dress, sufficient to conjure up the period but in keeping with the starkness of the décor. (One small quibble is the inaccuracy of sleeveless dresses for the ladies.) Rew Tippin's sound design and choice of secular and ecclesiastical Renaissance music adds dimension.
All in all, this Romeo and Juliet is well worth a hearing. It tells the timeless tale with conviction and heart, but without sentimentalizing. Its honesty proves to be its primary virtue.
Photos Courtesy of TAM
Romeo and Juliet runs until August 24, 2014, at the Theater at Monmouth, 796 Main, St., Monmouth, ME