I had the distinct pleasure and privilege of attending the opening of William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" at the Pentacle Theatre April 16.
Director Robert Herzog has achieved a great victory in his execution of the classic story of the devastation wrought by unquestioning family loyalty and the hot-headedness of youth.
"Romeo and Juliet" is one of those stories where you already know how it'll end but hope fervently that it will somehow be different this time.
By setting the play in "The Summer of Love," July 1967, Herzog has updated this age-old story making it more contemporary though no less heartbreaking. While Herzog's treatment of the play is certainly very different, alas, the ending is still the same.
Benjamin Farmer and Kristi Evans play the young lovers Romeo and Juliet. Our hearts soar with their portrayals of the first blush of love and fall to the depths of despair at the cruel twists of fate, which mar their short relationship.
Pentacle veterans Larry Roach as Capulet and Heather Webber as his long-suffering wife and mother of the fair Juliet are absolutely wonderful. A huge treat was Gabriela Barrera as Nurse. Her vigor and enthusiasm made this a wonderfully colorful role that could otherwise be easily overlooked.
Jeff Sanders' portrayal of the holy man Friar Laurence was both thoughtful and passionate. Two small but important parts were Romeo's parents, The Montagues, played by Randy Jacobson and Timaree Whitty. Gary Williams was a very good Prince Escalus of Verona.
Archie Crisanto, a capable Benvolio, introduced and concluded this wonderful play with a few well-chosen words. The rash Tybalt was very well played by Patrick J. Cox. Juliet's handsome suitor Paris, hand-picked by her father, was played by Jonathan Hoonhout while Sean Needles' portrayal of Capulet's servant, Peter, was a welcome bit of comic relief.
Rounding out the cast were Cody Epling, Brad Oase, Jesse O'Neill, Federico Pasinato, Adam Wigant, Katie Eick, Alison Ryan, Emma Buktenica, William Howell, Savannah Courter and Paul Hines. Several cast members did double duty filling different roles as needed.
The stage, designed by Technical Director Tony Zandol, was spare allowing for many "set changes" with no effort. Sound and lighting contributed to the shifts from one scene to the next. The eerie mood set by lighting and music in the Capulet's tomb at the conclusion was particularly poignant.
Costumes were quite inventive varying from 60's tie-dye to tailored elegance. In place of swords and daggers, we see switchblades and handguns.
In a pre-show chat with director Robert Herzog, I learned that he is very proud of his "kids" and the progress they've made. The young actors represent many of the high schools in the surrounding area. Herzog has taken this large group of mostly underage people and turned them into a troupe of fine Shakespearean performers. The work he's done with these young people shines in every line of the play.
Unless you're very familiar with the Bard's writing it can be a daunting task to understand the dialogue. However, it's evident that the actors speaking these lines understand exactly what they're saying and deliver each word with a passion that bespeaks many an hour of hard work.
If you have the chance to see this electrifying production, don't hesitate.