Romeo and Juliet

By ELLEN FERRY.

romeo-juliet-1082

Romeo and Juliet at the Park Square Theater. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

I took my seat before the Andy Boss Thrust Stage fearful that what I was about to witness—a 90-minute rendition of one of the finest plays ever written—would feel severely truncated. Romeo and Juliet’s star-crossed love is archetypal. The tale need not be explained, but would such a short run-time leave me desperately wanting for more of Shakespeare’s rich, harmonic language? Would the tragic ending feel sudden and cheap?

I was more than pleasantly surprised. The Park Square Theatre should be applauded, for it has done a great service to the arts community in the Twin Cities. Would I have loved to hear more of Shakespeare’s lush poetry? Certainly. But director David Mann has done exactly what he set out to do. He has made Shakespeare engaging and accessible—and quite elegantly, at that.

For more seasoned audience members undeterred by Old English poetry, the performance may have felt a bit labored. For those less comfortable with 16th century poetry, however, the actors’ deliberate movements made the complex lines easy to follow. Though I would have liked to see Shakespeare’s lines delivered with less extraneous movement in the second act (by that time, the exposition of the play was clear), I was thankful that the actors catered to the audience in every line during the first.

The acting was superb, but the production as a whole was not without dissonance. The juxtaposition of classic and modern elements made the show feel uncomfortably disjointed. I appreciated that the Montagues and Capulets were dressed in contrasting outfits, but the moto-inspired leather jackets were entirely inappropriate for the traditional stone arches of the set. The strapless black and gold pantsuit worn by Lady Capulet made me grimace every time I saw it. Modern sound choices (for example, club-like party music) yanked me sharply into present-day. The Old English was authentic, but at times, the delivery was far too sassy for Elizabethan Italy. When it comes to modernizing Romeo and Juliet, go big or go home, but never go halfway.

My review would be incomplete without singing praises to choreographer Doug Sholz-Carlson for his artfully crafted swordplay. Ryan Colbert and Jason Rojas were exceptional as the bantering Benvolio and Mercutio, commanding the stage with zeal. The chemistry between Michael Hannah (Romeo) and Christian Bardin (Juliet) played nicely during the iconic balcony scene. The ceiling of the Andy Boss Thrust Stage is decidedly low, and the two managed to produce a sufficient amount of romantic tension despite being positioned on the same plane with only a railing between them.

My largest complaint relates, in fact, to the venue itself. While pleasantly intimate, a thrust-style stage produces numerous challenges. David Mann failed to account for sight line issues created by two large pillars at the front of the house. From my seat, scenes positioned downstage left were blocked entirely.

On the whole, though, David Mann’s fast-paced adaptation of Romeo and Juliet exceeded my expectations.

While public performances of Romeo and Juliet conclude the weekend of Valentine’s Day, student matinees run February 4th through April 29th in the lower level of the Hamm Building in St. Paul, 408 St. Peter Street. Tickets start at $40.00, and can be purchased at the Park Square ticket office (20 W. Seventh Place), online at parksquaretheatre.org, or by calling 651-291-7005.

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