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
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.