Language is a tricky thing. Shakespearean language is an especially tricky thing. In the right hands, it can be as conversational as speaking with friends; in others it can be as imponderable as ancient Greek.
Director Matthew B. Baker resolutely kept the setting of the Paper Lace Theatre's production of Romeo and Juliet as originally written -- Verona, 1591 -- and the set (Jonathan Teague Cook) was a simple, bi-level playing area, all painted black. (Costumes by Lori Bauer were more effective for the women than the men.) Without any external trappings, or the distraction of an unusual setting, the play was allowed to stand on its own and succeed or fail according to the talents of the players, and their facility with Shakespeare's language. Although there was one notable exception (and a couple of minor ones), this is the playing field where Romeo and Juliet met, to mix a metaphor, its Waterloo.
Todd Lemieux as Romeo was the undisputed star of this production, as he was clearly in control of his character and his character's language. More than just reciting lines clearly, Lemieux was sure of their meaning, and he communicated intention and sense along with the poetry. The only others who seemed to be aware of how to convey what their words meant were, oddly enough, Romeo's in-laws, Lord and Lady Capulet (Thomas George Thomas, Jaki Demarest). Their acting was a little shakier, but their words sounded like actual dialogue from actual characters, which is more than could be said about the others on stage.
As Juliet, Alla Poberesky was distressingly contemporary (is Verona a town on Long Island?); her aspect ranged from sullen to serious. When excited, the hysteria and volume rose, but not the passion. Benvolio (David Purves), Mercutio (Geoffrey Gaebe), and Friar Laurence (Daniel Gerics), like the rest of the cast, showed that learning the sounds of the words is not the same as giving them sense. The first can be a trick of phonetics, the second requires more. (Gaebe died nicely, though.)
The fight and dance choreography (Stephen C. Betts and Cynthia Anderson Cook) were well-plotted and -executed, but would the Nurse (Laurie Bean) actually be invited to dance at the party of her employers? It was a pity that the teenage passion of Lemieux's Romeo was not displayed in a better showcase. He would likely have shone even if the play had been known, as was suggested in another venue, as Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter.
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Copyright 1999 David Mackler