Just when youâve finally dried your eyes from last summerâs rendition of Hamlet, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival returns with an equally gut-wrenching tragedy: Romeo and Juliet. Unlike many past HVSF performances, which situate the plays within a theme or time-period, this performance was pretty much straight ShakespeareâŚ and I think they nailed it.
Most everyone knows the story of the âtwo households, both alike in dignity.â But beyond the main conflict of the star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet is full of dramatic subplots, entertaining one-liners, and characters you canât help falling in love with. Although the story has a famously sad ending, there are many aspects of the play that will have you laughing, grinning, and appreciating the beauty of two teenagers falling in love for the first time.
âAudiences as well as actors and designers often have a strong personal point of view about the play before they arrive at the theater,â points out director Christopher Edwards in the playbill. âThis can make it hard for artists and audience to discover the play anew.â Even in light of this challenge, the cast did a great job of making the performance their own while remaining true to the spirit of the play.
Between the minimalist set and the costumes (a mishmash of contemporary street clothes and Elizabethan garb), there was a strong historical feel. It really underscored the timelessness of the story. Music, which was used at various point throughout the performance, ranged from present-day rap songs to epic movie-trailer scores. Other than that, the actors let the play speak for itself; indeed, Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeareâs easiest plays to follow, and I really respect that there was nothing âgimmickyâ to distract from the beauty of the script.
In general, I was very impressed with the acting. The most salient aspect of this performance was the focus on Romeo and Julietâs youth. The two never came across as confident lovers on romantic conquests â rather, they were hesitant, awkward, surprised. At first I thought Romeo (Carl Howell) seemed a little flat, but as the action moved along, I came to see it more as insecurity and his character grew on me. Juliet (Angela Janas) was very giggly, which I thought was brilliant, because that is exactly how a thirteen-year-old girl caught in her first romance would act. Julietâs nurse (Denise Cormier) was a real crowd-pleaser: a tough cookie with a Jersey accent and a deep affection for the girl she had raised. Her character reminded me of Frenchie from Grease. The supporting characters were wonderful as well, working together with excellent chemistry.
I did, however, feel that some of my favorite parts of the play were glazed over. I wouldnât say that the actors were rushing through their dialogue, but I did miss some of the lines I was waiting for. While I acknowledge that many scenes are meant to be performed âfrantically,â I wished that they would slow down just enough to let us appreciate how very spectacular Romeo and Juliet is.
I highly recommend this play to anyone who considers themselves relatively âfluentâ in Shakespeare. As usual, HVSF has done an outstanding job.
Romeo and Juliet will run until August 30th at the beautiful Boscobel estate in Garrison, NY.Â Visit http://hvshakespeare.org/content/2012-calendar for details or to purchase tickets.