Romeo and Juliet
“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny…
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.”
So announces the herald of the tragedy of the world’s most famous lovers. Performed during the brilliance of late afternoon through the dark of night, We Players theater company presents a witty, energetic, and entertaining rendering of “Romeo and Juliet” in a manner that this company distinctly offers.
As one of the most popular plays in Shakespeare’s canon, many theater goers may ask if they need to see it once more, but if you haven’t witnessed immersive theater, this is a fine fit for the conceit. The Mediterranean-styled Villa Montalvo is a stunning stand-in for Verona, and director Ava Roy makes clever use of the grounds and buildings. In keeping with the company’s modus operandi, the action moves among a dozen or so locations, and the audience follows along, gathering aside the players on folding stools or on the ground or standing if preferred. Attendees, given eye masks for anonymity (!), even have the opportunity for a brief dance at the Capulet Ball. The traveling mechanism gives new meaning to the bard’s notion that “all the world’s a stage.”
Other reasons to see this variant are its interpretation and casting. Although Juliet’s nurse’s early scene is typically played for laughs, the whole action in this version is broadly comedic until the tipping point of Mercutio’s death in his duel with Tybalt. Juliet is deftly portrayed by Maria Leigh as the immature 13 year old girl that she is, rather than as a young adult. The balcony scene is amusing as Leigh is ditsy, disconsolate, and distracted, and when surprised by Romeo’s arrival, she screams and ducks for cover, extracting great humor from the scene. Mohammad Shehata’s Romeo is likewise charmingly acted as youthful and vigorous, as well as hysterical, fickle, and impetuous. He is fast talking and starry eyed, and is prone to celebrate through physical exertion, like stopping to do chin ups.
Although Romeo and Juliet are the world’s greatest exemplars of romantic love, they share remarkably little time on stage together, and their love is based on fleeting contact. Clan conflict drives the plot, and until his death, no player fills the storyline and the stage like Mercutio, Romeo’s close friend. In one of several gender bending roles, he is played by Courtney Walsh, who plays it to the hilt. Her charisma, grand gestures, and playful lewdness dominate every scene she’s in.
Another device that purists may object to is, in effect, making Juliet a single-parent child. The roles of Lord and Lady Capulet are combined into a single female realization, providing a bigger platform for Libby Oberlin. Her melding is seamless as she bellows and threatens and demands revenge for Romeo’s killing Tybalt. Jennie Brick acquits herself well in the juicy part of the nurse, as does Amy Nowak in the small roles of the herald and Peter. But each cast member stands the test and deserves to be noted – those being Claire Haider, Rick Love, Rush Rehm, John Steele Jr., and Steve Thomas.
A band of three brass players and a drummer that moves about and performs Charlie Gurke’s original music adds to the period effect. Another fillip is the character masks designed by Monica Lundy. They are based on California wildlife, and characters are paired with animals to align with their spirit and movement.
A huge star is the venue itself, which is ideal for this particular play in the immersive idiom. Among the “stages” are the ballroom and veranda of the villa, the grand lawn, and perhaps most charming, the brick courtyard where the balcony scene takes place. But the most memorable is the crypt sequence that takes place after dark. The audience moves along a path through the Italianate Garden as in a funeral procession to the beat of a drum. Arriving at a lit, colonnaded gazebo, the final scenes are witnessed – a dramatic finish to a fulfilling production.
“Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare is produced by We Players and plays at Villa Montalvo, 15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga, through October 16, 2016.