Mercutio (Andrea Pane) in a sword fight with Tybalt (Thomas Brazzle). Photo by Gerry Goodstein
Romeo & Juliet
Connecticut Repertory Theatre
By Lauren Yarger
Connecticut Repertory Theatre's production of Romeo & Juliet had me wondering whether my memory had slipped until I (thankfully) read the helpful program notes by Dramaturg Levi Alpert explaining that this is a slightly different version of Shakespeare's classic tale of the star-crossed lovers.
Much of the dialogue is the same, but with enough sudden variations "that which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet") to make a die-hard R&J fan like myself question her sanity, so the dramaturg notes were much appreciated. It seems this version of the story "dates back to 1476 from a novella by … Masuccio Salernitano." OK, so I wasn't crazy to think some new dialogue had been added or that other lines were missing. Add to that Director Vincent J. Cardinal's decision to incorporate some modern touches like an I-Pod amidst the neo-Renaissance sets and costumes (Matt Iacozza; Angela Armijo and Fan Zhang, designers) and a less-stable critic might have headed right to the nearest bar.
But thanks to dramaturg Albert and a guess that Cardinal is trying to make a case that the tale is timeless and relevant in any time period, I can take a deep breath, cancel the doctor's appointment, relax and offer observations.
What stands out about this production is the really terrific fight choreography by Greg Webster. Steel clashes and extended sword battles rage in some of the most thrilling, realistic looking onstage battles you'll ever see. One battle breathtakingly stops, only to resume after intermission.
The few Equity members of the ensemble lend their expertise to their characters. Anthony J. Goes , a second –year graduate actor at UConn, lands a solid Lord Capulet who feuds with the Montagues orders Juliet (Hannah Kaplan) to marry her cousin, Tybalt (Thomas Brazzle), unaware that she already has wed Romeo (Will Hayden), son of his enemy, Lord Montague (Adam Schneemann).
Off-Broadway actress Nora Chester gives Juliet's nurse a different take. She still provides some comic relief, but is more serious, less of a fellow conspirator with her charge than usual. UConn alum Richard Ruiz (Sancho in last season's Man of LaMancha) returns to anchor the production with his take on Friar Lawrence, the well intentioned holy man who weds the young lovers in the hope that their union will end the hatred between their families. When all hope of peace is lost after Romeo kills Juliet's kinsman, Tybalt (Thomas Brazzle), and is banished by Prince Escalus (Dariusz Burkowski), Friar Lawrence hatches what turns out to be a not-so-death-defying scheme to keep the lovers together.
Ruiz' and his Equity cast mates' ability to deliver the Shakespeare lines naturally is welcome. Across the board the other actors sound as though they are doing a difficult reading from a book.
Cardinal also deserves kudos for his sharp staging of the famous, but usually difficult to pull off, balcony scene. With a terrace that moves to jut out over the thrust stage, he creates distance and depth (aided by lighting designer Billy Albertelli) to create darkness and shadows. Cardinal moves Romeo from positions in the house to underneath and around the balcony making it plausible that he could see and hear Juliet without being seen or heard himself. The technique also unites the audience with the character.
For a sneak peek, view a video here: http://youtu.be/AVgrtg18Lzs?hd=1.
Romeo & Juliet plays through Dec. 9 in the Nafe Katter Theatre,820 Bolton Rd., Storrs Campus, UConn. For tickets and information call 860-486-2113 and visit www.crt.uconn.edu.
Showtimes: Weeknight evening performances start at 7:30; Weekend evening performances start at 8. Matinee performances start at 2 pm. Tickets $6 $30: (860) 486-2113; www.crt.uconn.edu.