William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet will be performed under the stars this summer at three unique venues in Bridgeport and Stratford: The Peacock Pavilion at CT's Beardsley Zoo, historic McLevy Green in Bridgeport's flourishing downtown area; and on the grounds of The American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford as part of Festival! Stratford. The performances are produced by Connecticut Free Shakespeare (CFS), now in its thirteenth season. As the name implies, admission is free. As crafted by Producing Artistic Director, Ellen Lieberman, modern day audiences can easily relate to the play's timeless themes of first love, rebellion, hate, and loyalty to family. Ms. Lieberman's productions are true to Shakespeare's language and intentions and are held in high esteem by die-hard Shakespeare lovers, as well as by people who never thought they'd like Shakespearean plays. Performances take place from 8-10:30 pm; July 13-15 and July 18-22 at the zoo; July 25-29 at McLevy Green; and August 1, 2, 4 and 5 at Festival! Stratford. There is a 10 pm performance on August 3 at Festival! Stratford. Audiences should bring chairs or blankets for seating and are encouraged to come early to picnic. The zoo reopens at 6:30 pm for picnickers. Cancelled, if rainy.
Set sometime between 1300 and 1500 in Italy, Romeo and Juliet is the story of two young teens from enemy families who meet by chance and fall madly and hopelessly in love. Their story begins as a light-hearted comedy and concludes as a heart-stirring tragedy. During the first part of the play, there is clever banter, the oft quoted proclamations of love between Romeo and Juliet, and swashbuckling sword fights to keep things lively. Intrigue and plotting follow, with a secret marriage doomed from the start. All does not end well in this play. Shakespeare tells us "never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo."
The Italian Renaissance town of Verona comes to life in 21st century Connecticut with a set designed by Lynne Porter. The design is picturesque and evocative of 15th-16th century Italy. It also meets the technical challenges of being transportable and adaptable to the logistics of three very different locations. Technical Director, Kevin Schneck, is overseeing set construction and transportation with a crew of local students who are employed as CFS Technical Theater interns. Porter and Schneck both teach at Fairfield University. Porter is Chair of The Visual and Performing Arts Department, and Schneck is the Academic Technical Director and Production Manager.
The cast of Romeo and Juliet characters are played for the most part by award winning, professional actors, courtesy of Actors' Equity. Several talented theater majors from local universities also act, as do several high schools students. Many of the cast have performed in CFS productions in the past and report that they "joyfully" return to Connecticut each "magical" summer to work with Ellen Lieberman and "play with the peacocks."
This year, Romeo is played by Mark Friedlander, and Erin Scanlon is cast as Juliet. Eric Nyquist plays Mercutio; Tom Evans is Paris and the Apothecary; Stephen Humes plays Tybalt; Ian Eaton is Benvolio; Liliane Klein is The Nurse; Jamil Mangan is Friar Laurence; Alejandro Lopez is Friar John; Jerrial Young is Lord Montague; Lila Smith is Lady Montague; Jonathan Holtzman is Lord Capulet; Virginia Bartholomew is Lady Capulet; Tomike Ogugua is The Prince; and Gabriel Aprea is Balthazar. The ensemble cast are Maximillian Baron, Siena D'Addario, Austin DiBari, Julia Estrada, Adam Schneemann, Hannah Dubner and nine year old, Christopher McGoldrick.
There are other talents behind the scenes that make this production of Romeo and Juliet extraordinary. Sword play is coached by fight choreographer, Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum. Grigolia-Rosenbaum fenced at Yale while studying theater, then trained in swordplay. He is fight director for Peter and the Starcatcher on Broadway. Eric Nyquist, a local talent from Trumbull, not only acts, but is Director of Music and Choreography. Fred Santore of Hamden directs Sound. Sebastian Paczynski of New Jersey is Lighting Designer. Christine Mallardi and Solveig Pflueger are the company's Costumers.
CT Free Shakespeare is supported, in part, by The City of Bridgeport Mayor's Office, The Mayor's Neighborhood Arts & Heritage Grant, The Workplace, Inc., The Norma Terris-Albert Firestone Foundation, CT Department of Economic and Community Development-Connecticut Office of the Arts, AT&T, D'Addario Industries, United Staging and Rigging, Inc., Bridgeport Arts + Cultural Council, Downtown Thursdays, Avi and Rhoda Freedberg Family Foundation, People's United Community Foundation, The Fairfield County Community Foundation, Sacred Heart University, Bridgeport Innovation Center, Merit Insurance, Queue Inc., Russ Nagy of The Quick Center for the Arts, Theatre Fairfield, CT's Beardsley Zoo, and Festival! Stratford.