Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Dream of Romeo and Juliet

We've been attending Seattle Shakespeare Company's more regularly over the past couple years and continually grow more impressed with the accomplishment of their productions. Yesterday's play was Romeo and Juliet and, once again, we are VERY impressed.

One tactic that Seattle Shakespeare has used in several plays now is to do something unexpected that takes audience members off guard and immediately immerses them in the world of the play. For example, last Fall's Comedy of Errors had an aerialist swinging on the pendulum of a giant clock. Romeo and Juliet was framed within scenes of people trapped without their will or understanding on a stage and forced to act out parts they did not choose. There is a hint that everything that happens is a dream or an illusion...including time and its demands. It worked extraordinarily well, changing the audience from intentional viewers of an artistic production on a rainy Saturday afternoon into "observers" of "real people" trying to act on a bewildering and violent world they wake up in and make their story a romance...not a tragedy.

Memes are all the rage on the Internet these days and there is one that scoffs at the notion that Romeo and Juliet is really a love story. The thing to consider is, if circumstances had been different it COULD have been the beginning of an excellent love story. IF Romeo and Juliet were not members of families literally at war with one another. IF duels to the death were not commonplace. IF there had been just a little more time...

Granted, there are obstacles to overcome. Romeo is impetuous and a bit fickle: he starts the play mooning over another woman (or maybe he was originally promised a part in As You Like It). While older than Juliet, he is clearly very young himself. He does show promise of integrity and priorities more far reaching than bloodshed in the streets...given time, he would undoubtedly have been quite a character. I thought that Riley Neldam ably captured this ambiguous state and promise.

The character of Juliet was played by Anastasia Higham. She carried out this first starring role in a production perfectly. A year ago, I saw her playing various roles in the Seattle Shakespeare touring production of Macb....the Scottish play. To see her go in just a year from being little Fleance (anachronistically playing with a toy airplane) to an exquisite young woman experiencing love for the first time in dire circumstances was something special.

But we all know, the love story between Romeo and Juliet isn't taking place in the Forest of Arden. It is taking place in a society rent by strife and violence, strife and violence that are largely personified in the person of Tybalt. Tybalt is the character whose hatred of the Montagues shows itself in a constant desire to fight and kill them. Alan Rickman took a turn as Tybalt in the 1978 BBC production of Romeo and Juliet and his Tybalt was fairly urbane, seeking a fight with Romeo by trying to avoid engaging Mercutio.

Treavor Boykin's Tybalt was something very different and ferocious. This image from the Seattle Shakespeare site of him attacking  Andrew Lee Creech's Benvolio captures this incredibly well. These two characters and Trevor Young Marston's pitch perfect Mercutio play a huge part in creating the world of strife in which the play takes place, the violence and the fatalistic acceptance of that violence that it ultimately leads to. Only Benvolio and Romeo among the young men seem interested in finding more to life than carousing and killing.

I enjoyed every bit of this performance, both the traditional aspects and the new insights and emphases found by its director, Vanessa Miller. Among the new faces, seeing familiar faces like Mike Dooly (Lord Capulet) and George Mount (playing the Prince, the Chorus and Fate) made the experience familiar, as well as new and thought provoking.

If you haven't seen this production of Romeo and Juliet yet, you have one more week in which to do so. I am volunteering as an usher this week and excited at having an opportunity to see this play one more time!

Treavor Boykin (Tybalt)
Andrew Lee Creech (Benvolio)
Mike Dooly (Lord Capulet)
Chris Ensweiler (Friar Laurence)
Morgan Grody (Servant)
Anastasia Higham (Juliet)
Justin Huertas (Dream/Death/Apothecary)
Trevor Young Marston (Mercutio)
Claire Marx (Lady Montague)
Carolyn Marie Monroe (Lady Capulet)
George Mount (Prince/Chorus/Fate)
Riley Neldam (Romeo)
Jason Salazar (Ensemble)
Kerry Skalsky (Lord Montague)
Jordan Iosua Taylor (Paris)
Kathryn Van Meter (Nurse)
Elizabeth Wu (Ensemble).

Production Team

Vanessa Miller (Director)
Craig Wollam (Set Designer)
Kelly McDonald (Costume Designer)
Tim Wratten (Lighting Designer)
Robertson Witmer (Sound Designer)
Justin Huertas (Composer)
Crystal Dawn Munkers (Assistant Director/Choreographer)
Geof Alm (Fight Choreographer)
Robin Macartney (Props Designer)
Tori Thompson (Stage Manager)

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