A very good production of “Romeo and Juliet” is playing at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival in Prescott. Director Janet Irwin has set the play in the 1950s, perhaps the last decade in which marriage decisions were primarily made by parents, often in conflict with teen-agers’ raging hormones. This decision allows designer Alex Amini to costume the actors so they can move easily through the athletic staging. By the way, the various knife fights staged by Jonathan Purvis are remarkably effective. Her costumes for the Capulets, particularly Juliet, are especially good.
The simple set of two sheer white panels with a circular sheer panel center designed by Julie Bourbonnais is very atmospheric. The transformation to the tomb and the gradual lighting of the single paper lantern work very well. The a cappella dirges by Melissa Morris are good, but Lady Capulet’s snippet of “Blue Moon” seems out of place.
The cast is generally good, with just a couple of uneven performances. Jonathan Gould is excellent as the Prince and also in his subtle guitar work. Unfortunately Kathleen Veinotte gives an inconsistent performance as the Nurse, characterized off and on by a flat-footed caricature of a walk. As Paris, Benjamin Sutherland gives us a realistically believable death scene.
Pierre Brault gives a fine performance as Friar Lawrence. I identified with his subtle exasperation at Romeo’s self-indulgent ravings about banishment. As Capulet, Richard Sheridan Willis handles the language beautifully, and his Act II tirade at Juliet is frighteningly powerful. Jamie Cavanagh’s hyper Mercutio is balanced on the edge of mental instability without ever going over the edge. He does the best I’ve ever seen with the Queen Mab speech.
As Romeo Jesse Griffiths is appropriately boyish and over dramatic in his teen-age raving and is especially good in the Act II balcony scene. As for Rose Napoli’s Juliet, she’s the only actress I’ve seen who creates a believable 14 year-old, both physically and emotionally. Her impulsive delivery of the text makes it as clear as contemporary language, a defining mark of good Shakespearian acting. We like her and we empathize.
Director Irwin’s staging and pace are both first rate. Although an errant rabbit stole focus during the Act I balcony scene as he settled down on the forestage to watch, the actors never broke concentration. She has helped her actors maintain realistic characters and make the language clear without losing the poetry. Miss Irwin has given us a colorful, believable and powerful production.
Although I’m a bit long in the tooth to empathize with teen-age angst, no one is ever too old to understand the futility of ancient grudges. As Director Irwin says in her program notes, “How can we bear the waste of young people hanging battered on the barbed wire of old wars?”
“Romeo and Juliet” runs in rep at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival through August 22.
- Quincy Armorer – Tybalt
- Pierre Brault – Friar Lawrence
- Jamie Cavanagh – Mercutio
- Shannon Currie – Lady Capulet
- Jesse Griffiths – Romeo
- Jonathan Gould – the Prince
- Colin Lepage – Benvolio
- Rose Napoli – Juliet
- Alice Snaden – Ensemble
- Benjamin Sutherland – Ensemble
- Kate Veinotte – the Nurse
- Richard Sheridan Willis – Capulet
- Director – Janet Irwin
- Musical Director & Composer – Melissa Morris
- Choreographer – Jonathan Purvis
- Fight Director – Jonathan Purvis
- Set Designer – Julie Bourbonnais
- Costume Designer – Alex Amini
- Stage Manager – Jane Osborn
- ASM – Kelsey Rutledge