Romeo and Juliet is undoubtedly the world’s most famous love story and has been performed and adapted countless times for more than 400 years. However, the current production is a first for Kalamazoo’s New Vic Theatre, and it’s been 34 years since the company has staged any Shakespeare play.
For Director Michael P. Martin, it is a labor of love to do Shakespeare, and here he makes some very smart choices. Perhaps most notably, the script has been whittled down to its most crucial and high-valence moments, and cuts the play down to about 75 minutes in length while losing very little. The star-crossed lovers still fall for each other amid rivaling families who murder the most beloved among them until the impassioned teenagers themselves (spoiler alert!) opt to die together rather than live apart. It makes for a quick-paced and utterly watchable production, even for those among us who can no longer count the number of times or various iterations of the text we’ve seen.
The quick pacing is aided by Martin’s brisk blocking, fantastic fight scenes expertly choreographed by Atis Kleinbergs, and lively performances with bold use of space and seamless transitions.
In the New Vic’s cozy cabaret-style house, with audience members clustered around small tables, the actors often make their entrances and exits through the aisles to a makeshift catwalk that splits the audience and connects to the stage. In addition, the box seats stage left become a separate stage of sorts where intimate, more private scenes take place.
With action unfolding quite literally all over the place and a visually engaging set (complete with the necessary balcony center stage) by Mary Ellen Harris lit with nuance by James Furney, it’s impossible, really, to feel as if being audience to this show is a passive experience. And that’s quite an accomplishment especially given the archaic language.
Though the language, too, comes vibrantly alive, particularly with such adept actors such as Sarah Roddis as a fierce and charming Mercutio, especially when sharing the stage with Benjamin Hooper as Benvolio. They effectively milk the scenes for humor and overall emotionality to make them come alive.
Roddis is clearly the strongest actor for arguably the most demanding role in the play, and the choice appears to have nothing, really, to do with gender. Though she’s cast in a male role, she doesn’t play Mercutio as a male, and it works beautifully.
Anna Mundo’s performance of the Nurse with a Cockney accent is inspired, and though Jacob Zech as Romeo and Haley Archambault as Juliet come across as physically more than verbally impassioned, they look and feel the youthful parts. And like the rest of the largely impressive cast, do a fine job delivering the lines with naturalness and ease.
This Romeo and Juliet goes for the marrow and does so with creativity and gusto, making for an overall fine evening of classic drama.
Romeo and Juliet
New Vic Theatre
Feb 23-March 17