The 54th Annual Colorado Shakespeare Festival kicked off last weekend with the ultimate tale of tragic teen love, Romeo and Juliet. The festival features four plays this year. In addition to the brawling Montagues and Capulets, the idyllic outdoor Mary Rippon Theatre also hosts The Comedy of Errors. In the indoor University Theatre, you’ll find The Little Prince, based on the existential classic by Antoine De Saint-Exupery and written by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar, as well as Nikolai Gogol’s The Inspector General.
The sleeker schedule and 50/50 Shakespeare to non-Shakespeare ratio are not the only changes Shakespeare Festival patrons will notice this year. Anyone who has ever missed one of ol’ Will’s masterfully crafted bon mots or mots juste due to a low-flying helicopter (damn hot-shot Flight for Life pilots) or an ill-timed car horn intruding from Broadway should rejoice, because each and every one of the actors on stage in the Mary Rippon now has his or her own handy-dandy personal microphone. That’s right, the CSF is now wired for sound. While some purists might decry mic-ing the cast, most will welcome this innovation, I’m sure.
As one of the most well-known and oft-produced of Shakespeare’s plays, Romeo and Juliet poses a challenge to any director. How does one remain true to the letter and spirit of the piece while keeping it vibrant and relevant to today’s audience? Often, the director will rely on an unexpected setting. Romeo and Juliet … in space! Or, Romeo and Juliet … on ice! As Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo Juliet proved, swords may be replaced with guns and Mantua with a trailer park and the end result can be astounding, but it’s always nice to see a more traditional take on the material. Director Lynne Collins’ choice to set the play in 15th-century Renaissance Italy results in a Romeo and Juliet that feels very Old World in a very good way.
If you’re unfamiliar with this tale of woe then get thee to a library! Better still, get thee to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, for this is one well-done Romeo and Juliet. All right, I relent. The Montagues and the Capulets, two wealthy families in Verona, hate each other. Their younger, male members itch to fight every time they pass in the street, and they’ve scratched that itch so often that the Prince of Verona has forbade any future breaches of the peace on pain of death. Despite starting the play in lust for a girl named Rosaline, Romeo (Benjamin Bonenfant), a Montague, falls deeply and quite madly in love at first sight with Juliet (Jamie Ann Romero), a Capulet.
Romeo and Juliet’s love is so pure and true that it extinguishes the feud between their parents, and they all live happily ever after. Or, the young lovers needlessly take their own lives in the throes of the kind of romantic passion only found in grand tragedies and junior high school. I don’t want to spoil the ending for any first-timers who want to go in fresh, but it’s definitely one of those two options.
Jamie Ann Romero and Benjamin Bonenfant imbue their characters with credibility. Their performances bring out the youth in Juliet and Romeo that is often missed by actors that insist on playing young teenagers as if they were in their late 20s. Though Romero and Bonenfant acquit themselves nicely, as is often the case with Romeo and Juliet, certain supporting actors buoy the leads and come close to stealing the show.
In the role of Juliet’s nurse, Leslie O’Carroll is a comic powerhouse. I noted Ms. O’Carroll’s performance in last year’s Reckless, and now I can say without doubt that she is one of the funniest actresses working in the Denver-Boulder area these days. In the more sober role of Friar Laurence, Erik Sandvold once again delivers in spades. The man just doesn’t know how to give a bad performance. And as Mercutio, Geoffrey Kent makes it look easy. His performance is by far the standout of the show. His take on the Queen Mab speech alone, hesitating just often enough and in just the rights moments so that he legitimately seems to be making it up as he goes along, is genius.