I just love a theatre festival, a wonderful alchemy of “theatre” and of “festival.” The most fabulous of these happenings occur somewhere that is lovely all on its own (ex.: Niagra on the Lake, the Berkshires, etc.) Add to this an actual company of creative artists and a laid back simulated outdoor performance (note: I do not enjoy theatre in the actual outdoors as I find it inconducive to subtlety) and you have the making of a very special experience. I have seen wonderful new works premiered at festivals as well as unique interpretations of traditional works. Directors have more artistic leeway off of the great white way, and the audience is often the beneficiary of this freedom of expression.
Last night I was mesmerized by Daniela Varon’s (dir.) interpretation of Rome and Juliet at Shakespeare & Co. (Lenox, MA.) I don’t know if I’ve every seen a fully staged professional live production of this work. This would explain why, for the first 30 minutes or so, I kept thinking; “This Shakespeare fellow does a wonderful interpretation of West Side Story.”
A thrust stage and a balcony (not for what you would think) were used within an inch of their life. Many of the younger characters wove in and around the audience at times. This device was used lightly and brilliantly and never felt contrived or desperate (in that “stand-up comic using the audience for material way.”) Set in a non-specific time, with no video, and very minimal audio, the audience was free to project their own framework onto the story. The costumes aided in that they were predominately all white. The white cotton costuming provided a perfect canvas for all of the bleeding as well. There was a colossal burst of color and extraordinary costuming for the
dance at the gym masquerade ball scene.
I am hesitant to single out any of the performances as there were so many riveting and enjoyable actors. I do feel compelled to mention that I simply could not take my eyes off of
Riff Mercutio. He was very funny and physical and flat out magnetic. Ms. Varon directed this R&J in such a fresh and exciting manner. I had no idea this play could be so funny. Yes, of course it’s tragic, but some of the dialogue is extremely amusing. I particularly enjoyed directing Juliet (Susanna Millonzi) to periodically act just like a 14 year old!
Now dear reader, if you will permit me to get meta for a moment. I have always been schooled to understand R&J as a tale of the ultimate tragedy of warring families. Minimally, the play is a cautionary tale of why we should not try to keep our teenagers from dating those we find undesirable. Well call me practical penguin, but I’m now thinking it is a cautionary tale about mis-communication. Those kids didn’t die because their families didn’t get along. They died because
Doc the friar did not get the message to Romeo in time.
Oh, and in Romeo and Juliet? Chino dies.
Note: I found it telling that there were at least a dozen children in the audience, some barely at the multiplication table age, who sat silent and spellbound throughout the three hours.