‘Romeo and Juliet” has been performed and produced in endless ways and set in different eras, so it’s a treat to see it returned to its roots by the PCPA Theaterfest.
Director Patricia M. Troxel has set the play at the time of its writing, the Renaissance in the 1500s in the city of Verona, Italy. This elegant production features a beautiful set designed by DeAnne Kennedy that includes architectural elements of the period — rows of arches and balconies and a faux tile floor, illuminated from below.
The sumptuous costumes designed by Cheryl Odom combine Renaissance fashion with even more elaborate 19thcentury Revivalist styles with silks, damasks, and other rich fabrics creating an almost fairy tale vision. The set and costumes give Shakespeare’s iconic romantic tragedy a stunning sense of time and place.
The story of Romeo, a son of the Montague family, who falls in love with Juliet, of the rival Capulet clan, is the Bard’s morality tale of tragedy bred by enmity.
Too often this play is cast with actors too old for the roles of the teenage Romeo and Juliet, but that mistake is not made this time. Shae Palic, a second-year acting student at PCPA, easily passes as the 14 year-old Juliet, and J.R. Yancher, an acting intern, is a young, vigorous Romeo.
This production has a youthful energy and a swift pace, beginning with a rousing swordfight between young members of the rival families. There are a number of intense fight sequences, convincingly choreographed by Mark Booher. Lighthearted scenes of banter and horseplay among Romeo’s friends have comic moments that are a reminder of how important body language is to the interpretation of Shakespeare’s language. Quinn Mattfeld, as Romeo’s friend Mercutio, is a standout in these scenes.
Romeo and Juliet’s intense process of falling in love is both dramatic and sweet. The famous balcony scene is staged with Juliet on a small balcony in the audience area of the theater and Romeo on the stage below. So much happens over the course of the play that it’s something of a surprise to realize that the lovers go from meeting each other to meeting their tragic end in less than a week.
Some of PCPA’s fine actors give depth to other roles. Elizabeth Stuart is Nurse, Juliet’s caretaker, giving her longtime confidant a strong personality. Erik Stein is commanding as Lord Capulet, Juliet’s father, and Karin Hendricks is good as her mother. Andrew Philpot is one of the best interpreters of the Shakespeare language, as he plays Friar Lawrence using body language and nuanced articulation to make it seem almost like modern speech. Peter S. Hadres plays Lord Montague and Cristina Gerla is Lady Montague. Tony Carter is good as Tybalt.
The dialogue in the play is areminder of the many sayings that have come from Shakespeare’s play to become commonplace today, such as “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” “ a wild goose chase,” and “ a plague on both your houses.”
The set is an architectural abstraction of the aesthetics of the time and place, with minimal set pieces and a background painting that gives it depth. The lighting changes with the mood of the action. Tamar Geist is lighting designer. The background sound designed by Elisabeth Rebel fuses Renaissance music with moments of contemporary music by Queen.
“Romeo and Juliet” has been dispersed and redesigned for centuries. This production brings it full circle.