The IU Theatre and Drama Department is staging "Romeo & Juliet," Shakespeare’s pathetic tale of young love. It’s a story of love that faces the obstacle of a family feud between Romeo’s Montagues and Juliet’s Capulet’s, of deadly duels, of missed messages, and of the efficacy of medieval chemistry.
The IU production, directed by Murray McGibbon, displays great attention to detail of language and action. Wes Peters’ abstract set uses a set of movable frames and a few props to create spaces that range from the openness of a busy street to an intimate bedchamber. The lighting by Robert Shakespeare smoothly highlighted action, focused attention and set moods. With only one exception the costumes by Dixon Reynolds had a varied and attractive period look. There was original music by Anthony Stoner that served both as entr’actes and to underscore some of the drama.
There is a lot of obvious skill and effort put into "Romeo and Juliet," but problems begin in the first moments. At the outset a bespectacled narrator in modern dress appears. He speaks the opening lines of the play as the chorus as the cast stands behind a scrim. I can’t figure out why he was there. He’s not in the production so one of his lines "…our toil…" doesn’t make sense. Why he returns to say the play’s closing lines instead of the Prince again escapes me.
Darby Cicci makes a handsome Romeo and delivers all the lines clearly, but at times his blank look seems to suggest that he doesn’t understand his part. Nick Arapoglou was a sympathetic figure as his friend Benvolio. Benvolio’s antics with the Mercutio of David Sheehan were deftly stages bits of physical comedy. Mercutio, as he’s supposed to be, was the most attractive character of the first act. More than one person has suggested that Shakespeare kills off Mercutio because he so outshines Romeo. Perhaps it was to fill a void, but Sheehan was at times a bit too mercurial for even this high spirited character. Josh Gaboian played Mercutio’s fatal opponent Tybalt as a crude thug. It was difficult to understand why anyone was especially upset that the hesitantly revengeful Romeo killed him.
Sara Dobbs played Juliet in the IU production. Dobbs’ portrayal began with great promise. Juliet is supposed to be fourteen and Dobbs played her as a flighty, emotional, teenaged girl with those quick shifts of mood that are the bane of the parents of teenagers in any era. This worked well in the beginning, but as "Romeo & Juliet" progresses, Juliet has to grow into a young woman and to take on some more dramatic heft if the audience is to properly appreciate her tragedy. Dobbs didn’t make enough of this transition. Alia Tawil played Juliet’s nurse. The nurse is one of Shakespeare’s great character parts. Tawil did well with the intricate comic dialog of the play’s opening, but seemed to grow more wooden as the play developed.
Although the family feud in "Romeo & Juliet" is between Romeo’s Montagues and Juliet’s Capulets, the Montagues get short shrift. We get nothing of the internal workings of the Montague clan, but spend a good deal of time in the Capulet household.Lord and Lady Capulet were played by Sam Wooten and Renee Rodriguez. Wooten played the role as an amusing twinkle-eyed, old fuddy-duddy. This worked fine until the Lord demanded that Juliet marry Paris in a brutal, arm-wrenching bit of tyranny. It was shockingly out of any expectation that he’d built for his character and still puzzles me. In a show that has really nice costumes for everyone, poor Lady Capulet was dressed outlandishly. The dignified Rodriguez’ character was togged out with tights, hot pants, a long divided skirt with a swinging front panel, the only bare midriff in the show and a silly hat, she looked like a villainess in one of the Superman movies.
Brendan Pentzell in the pivotal role of Friar Lawrence was a stiff actor, but carried his part with a welcome loud, clear voice. The Prince of Verona in "Romeo & Juliet" is the representative of , and restorer of civil authority. It’s a difficult role, spoken well by Devon Anderson, but lacking sufficient gravitas.
There is a high polish to the IU production of "Romeo & Juliet." In Murray McGibbon’s staging, action moves smoothly from crowds to small ensembles and solos. Everyone looks good. The lines are mostly well delivered. Shakespeare’s story is solidly and respectfully told. But somehow, despite many things in its favor, the production simply does not get off the ground. It flutters attractively, but it never takes wing.
The IU Theatre and Drama Department’s production of "Romeo & Juliet" plays each evening this week through Saturday.