Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 8, 2011

Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through September 3, 2011
by Shera Cohen

Just when you thought it was safe to go to the theatre, there it is again – “Romeo and Juliet” (R&J). Lovely, tear-jerking, and meaningful the first time around; mandatory reading in high school and then in college; movie versions produced every decade (whatever happened to Olivia Hussey?); and numerous 20th century adaptations make R&J synonymous with the name of Shakespeare.

BUT, R&J’s return in the Berkshires this summer is definitely worth another look. Boasting a huge cast with young R&J actors (they looked 14, which is the age the doomed lovers should be), director Daniela Varon focuses on the characters. This is no whitewash of Capulet vs. Montague families and a variety of others who populate the stage. Every role is uniquely human. Their names are remembered. Each comes with baggage to create fully fleshed people.

Of course, there’s R&J – David Gelles and Susannah Millonzi. Both are Equity actors who come with experience. However, they portray naivety, joy, wonder, giddiness, and passion. There is not an audience member alive who does not know the play’s finale, and yet we watch and wait as if unknowing. One young teen boy was overhead afterward saying, “I was really hoping they were gonna’ make it this time.” He echoed the thoughts of many.

The stage is stark with a woman’s eyes viewing the audience, the actors dress in white (save for the party scene), the time is the 1500’s or 21st century…it doesn’t matter.
Of particular note is the superior acting of Kevin O’Donnell (Mercutio), Starla Benford (Nurse), and Walton Wilson (Friar). These are important characters, so it’s no surprise that skilled actors were cast. Here, again, the actors develop true, living, hurting people. O’Donnell’s Mercutio oozes the tortured man whose bravado often makes him uneasy to observe. Benford’s Nurse sasses in a spirited and keenly intelligent demeanor beyond her station. Wilson’s Friar ebbs between his devotion to man or to what is holy.

Yes, this R&J is very safe, warm, shocking, and new at Shakespeare & Company.