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BWW Review: BOASTING A BOLD AND DIVERSE CAST JOBSITE TACKLES SHAKESPEARE'S MOST “FAMOUS PLAY” WITH ROMEO & JULIET at JOBSITE THEATER

A STELLAR, DYNAMIC, DIVERSE CAST MAKES FOR AN ENSEMBLE FEAT OF GRANDEUR.

BWW Review: BOASTING A BOLD AND DIVERSE CAST JOBSITE TACKLES SHAKESPEARE'S MOST “FAMOUS PLAY” WITH ROMEO & JULIET  at JOBSITE THEATER "Romeo, Romeo, where for art-thou Romeo...?" -Juliet of her Romeo

"These Violent Delights, have Violent Ends" -Friar Lawrence

"We belong, to the light

We belong to the thunder

We belong to the sound of the word

We both fallen under...." -Pat Benatar, We Belong, Tropico Album, 1984.

The year 1985, the setting Fair Verona where we lay our scene. Over the years Romeo & Juliet has been translated, interpreted and conceived in many different forms and fashion. Outside of literature none more so than that of film and stage. Diverting back to literature briefly, Romeo & Juliet was first translated into English in 1562 as a poem entitled The Tragic History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke.

In film there have been numerous versions throughout history. Perhaps the most famous version is that of Frank Zeffirellis' 1968 film starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. The film that I'm sure all can remember from watching it during High School English class, sparked controversy even then because, Olivia was only 15 years of age at the time the film was made.

On our journey through history we come to another undeniably famous adaptation with the release of the 1961 musical film West Side Story starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer. Originally West Side Story was conceived as a Political Statement of Religion between the Jews and the Catholics, but the film portrayed feuding gangs over territory between the Puerto Rican's and the Caucasians. In the end the love story between Tony and Maria very much mirrored that of Romeo & Juliet.

The 1996 Baz Lurhmann film Romeo & Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Daines as the star-crossed lovers received critical acclaim but amongst many received much criticism as this is the first time we see a modern version of the tragic love story. Baz Lurhmann in all fantastical glory chose to highlight Rival Corporate Businesses and guns instead of feuding families wielding swords.

Other interpretations include the 2013 Hailee Steinfeld led adaptation, Animated versions (Gnomeo & Juliet, Lion King 2: Simba's Pride), Horror comedy (Warm Bodies) starring Nicholas Hoult, LGBTQ interpretation (Private Romeo), Political Satire (Romanoff and Juliet), Exploitation (Tromeo & Juliet), and the Metafiction adaptation of Shakespeare himself with (Shakespeare in Love.)

History lessons' aside we can all agree Romeo & Juliet has made a substantial mark on Pop Culture as we know it. The fantastic thing to highlight when it comes to producing Shakespeare's works is the fact that they all lie in Public Domain. For those unaware of what this means, it simply means as Artists produce these works, they can be left up to interpretation. Setting, Costumes, Casting, etc can be changed within reasonable standards. As long as the Producing Company stays true to the text they have been given. Over the years I have seen multiple interpretations of the Bard's work. I've seen Julius Caesar in which Julius and Brutus were played by women in modern time wielding semi-automatic weapons. I have seen a production of Romeo & Juliet set in the middle of racial divide in Midwest Indiana in which the Montague's were African American and the Capulet's Caucasian. Set in a midwest junkyard adorned with a made for scraps Volkswagen Beetle on-stage in which the slain Mercutio was shoved into the back of for the remainder of the act. The image still strikes me even to this day.

Shakespeare's works have been interpreted in many different fashions, and none more relevant than by that of the Resident Theatre Company at the Straz Center, our neighborhood Jobsite Theater. Producing Artistic Director David Jenkins and Text Coach Giles Davies have done something I have been waiting to see Jobsite do for sometime, and that is tackle what is considered to be Shakespeare's most famous work. So with the set adorned and audience in their seats for the final preview prior to opening; with baited breath we watched and waited with anticipation as the lights descended on the Jaeb Theatre and we were thrust into 1985 Fair Verona.

Boasting a much larger cast than of late that we have seen in a Jobsite show since the COVID-19 Pandemic shocked the world as we know it Romeo & Juliet was sure to be something special. A diverse cast chocked full of Jobsite favorite's and welcomed new additions to the Jobsite family this was one night we were sure to remember for some time.

Starting at the top we have Darius Autry a newcomer to the Jobsite arena as our beloved Romeo. His powerful stage presence and piercing eyes make it impossible to look away as he leads us through his plight. The moments where he directly speaks to the audience are chilling in intention and captivating from the start.

Benvolio Romeo's Cousin portrayed by Newt Rametta was a great addition to the ensemble and captured Benvolio perfectly.

As our ingenue Juliet, Kayla Witoshynsky captured the naive, demure nature of Juliet and you felt for her.Though at times I felt her portrayal to be slightly more naive than it needed to be. Yes, we understand Juliet lives under the roof of rather controlling parents, but I wanted more from her as she pines for Romeo.

The Nurse and Prince Escalus as portrayed by David Warner were wonderful additions and his Nurse was much added Comic Relief.

Jobsite Veteran Katrina Stevenson as Tybalt was a wonderful choice, but in this instance was slightly underwhelming for me. Her athleticism and fighting was spot on but as far as her delivery, it kept me wanting more.

Cornelio "Coky" Aguilera was wonderful as Friar Lawrence. You felt the father figure nature of his relationship to Romeo and his moment to moment leading up to the tragic end left me gutted in his interpretation. So spot on, and exceptional.

Rounding out the cast is Robert "Spence" Gabriel as Paris, Jared Sellick as Peter, Marlene Peralta as Lady Capulet, Kasondra Rose as Lady Montague/Singer, Brian Matthew Shea as Lord Montague/Apothecary, and Theron "T.R." Butler as Lord Capulet. All making up an exceptional ensemble for the plight of this story.

Best in Show goes to our Mercutio, Martin Powers. If you have never experienced this dynamic young performer on the stage then you have done yourself an extreme disservice. Martin is captivating as Mercutio and by far the best role in which I have ever seen him. He explodes every time he steps onto the stage and full embodies Mercutio through to his last breath. All eyes are drawn to him as he traverses through the space and the text. Exceptional here and the standout performer in this ensemble.

David Jenkins, Giles Davies and Company should be exceptionally proud of the ensemble created here.

Now as I said above, Shakespeare is left up to interpretation within reasonable standards. Jobsite's stamp on Shakespeare in our area has been and continues to be unmatched. From The Tempest, to A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Henry the V, Jobsite Theater continues to remain un-disputed in their interpretations of the Bard's work.

That being said I was extremely excited for the premiere of their take on this famous piece. Let me preface by saying I 100% respect the bold choices that were made here, but other's left me scratching my head.

Outside of the added music like We Belong by Pat Benatar and Blue Monday by New Order, I do not feel anything else made it feel like this was set in 1985. The beginning with the Radio DJ was a nice touch, however there were times in which I felt the music was slightly more of a hinderance than a needed addition. The segue into the Masquerade Ball was a nice touch with the live musician but again was it really needed to convey the story?

Katrina Stevenson's costumes were spot on in their contemporary fashion. I especially was appreciative of the visible tattoos and piercings seen throughout the ensemble. It made them seem more human and less character and was a great compliment to wardrobe.

Fight Choreography by Dan Granke was exceptional from bout to blow, but the use of swords instead of a slightly more modern weapon was slightly confusing but nonetheless very well crafted. I wish there was a way to feel more fire between Romeo and his Juliet, I wanted to feel for their plight more but in the end I was just left with...well they were in love.

From a technical standpoint as always the work here is exceptional. Jo-Averill Snell's lighting design lends well to the world in which the story is set, and Brian Smallheer's funcitonal set works exceptionally well... there are a few sightline issues pertaining to the bedroom but nonetheless perfectly convey the world of the show.

As far as textual concerns go I applaud Jobsite at its condensing and ability to shorten the text to fit the form of two acts. Some parts felt slightly more abrupt than others. Juliet's poison drinking as a way to escape to Romeo seemed slightly abrupt and out of left field, and I didn't know if there was a way to bring transition a little more seamlessly.

In the end the Houses choose to come together in light of the passing of their children. We see what could be the beginning of a new and reformed Verona.

Jobsite Theater continually proves to #RocktheBard harder than any other Company in the area and for that I applaud their choices. Shakespeare is classic and Jobsite's interpretations prove to bring people back time and again.Thursday nights' performance of which I was a part of the audience was the last preview performance in advance of opening night. You would be remiss if you were to let the chance to see Romeo & Juliet peformed in this arena pass you by. Jobsite continually strives to boldly go where no other Company can and in this instance a blast back to 1985 proves to be not just what we wanted, but what we needed, and I applaud David Jenkins and the entire Jobsite family. Tickets are available at strazcenter.org or by visiting jobsitetheater.org. Hurry cause tickets will go fast and Romeo & Juliet is only onstage through February 6th and cannot be held over! COVID-19 protocols apply and masks are required along with proof of Vaccination and or/Negative PCR test.

Photo Credit: James Zambon Photography



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From This Author - Drew Eberhard