The Crossroads Repertory Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet begins with Ashlée Vitz informing us that the year is 2032. All technical and electrical progress, including cel phones, have been destroyed. The basic locale is Verona, Ohio. Vitz costumed as the quite battle ready Mercutio cautioned us that we should keep the aisles clear as the cast would be using them for entrances and exits and that they were armed.
Following this effecting presentation, she then proceded with the standard invitation to “sit back, relax and enjoy the show.” This speech has begun to bother me. I’m happy to sit back, look forward to whatever pleasure there may be in the play, but I’m not ready to relax. I’m wondering what’s going to happen when the lights either come up or go down. Who will appear, what will they be doing, will I care?
As it happens Sunday afternoon in the New Theatre on the ISU campus, the lights came up on a battle royal. Knives, swords, quarter staffs, and short staffs were clattering, clanging and clacking in a ballet that must have taken fight choreographer Michael Sheldon and the cast hours to put together. It was definitely not a moment to relax into. Order is regained with the rough, authoritative intervention of Susan Monts-Bologna as the Prince.
Director Lauren Morris has tidily trimmed the tale of the star crossed lovers to a tidy hour and forty-five minutes with no intermission. She’s kept the drama intact and made sure to include the humor of Zene Colson as Peter, the Capulet’s illiterate messenger and Julie Dixon as their bawdy nurse. Jo Garcia-Reger makes a charmingly youthful Juliet and with the long haired Elijah Hendricks as the Montague Romeo they make a winsome couple, a bit adrift between the two families and the politics of the play.
There’s more than a dose of youthful hijinks with Romeo and his companion Kate Leverton as Benvolio, who gives the lover a good bit of grief about his affecting love for Rosaline and quick switch to Juliet.
Later, in a bit of youthful horseplay gone lethal the Capulet Tybalt, Jacob Glidden going for Romeo does mistakenly kill our play’s opener Mercutio. Mercutio offers the colorful account of the wound as “deeper than a well and wider than a church door,” and the finale “a plague on both your houses.” A maddened Romeo kills Tybalt and this leads to his banishment.
There’s still a lot of plot to account for in the play. Peter Ciancone as the Lord of the Capulets eloquently declares that Juliet will marry the worth Paris, Mat Schludecker. Although Juliet has plans of her own involving Romeo, Friar Lawrence played by Dave Harris and a wedding night, she agrees. As the friar Harris simply stands out in this production. His suggestion of the potion for Juliet and arrangements for the letter to Romeo promises a happy ending.
Romeo and Juliet is labeled a tragedy and it’s not spoiler to remind you that the letter doesn’t arrive. Romeo finds Juliet apparently dead, takes poise and when she awakes, finding him dead, she stabs herself. This was too much for the nineteenth century and there are plays and ballets that end happily, but not this one. The Friar wraps up the action. The Prince condemns both families. The deaths of children is a powerful push toward sanity and it seems that this dramatic example, may lead to a formal handshake and further sincere efforts at amity.
The Crossroads Repertory Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet plays two more times, Thursday July 11th and Friday July 12th in repertory with The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and the Johnny Cash show Ring of Fire.
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker