Review of Romeo and Juliet at St. Louis Shakespeare

    St. Louis Shakespeare focuses on the essentials in its production of Romeo and Juliet. The results are very impressive.

    Director Blake Anthony Edwards has eliminated peripheral characters and pared the text down to a little less than two hours (not including the intermission). Lady Montague is a composite of both of Romeo’s parents. These changes streamline the drama without introducing any confusion.

    Edwards has slightly altered the opening. The play does not begin with the prologue, which sets the scene in “fair Verona” and introduces a pair of star-crossed lovers from two families engaged in a longstanding feud. Instead, the prologue interrupts the first scene and is spoken by the title characters rather than a chorus. The lovers’ ominous delivery immediately raises the stakes.

    The cast includes five students from Webster University’s Sargent Conservatory of Theatre Arts: Erik Peterson as Romeo, Evie Bennett as Juliet, Jade Collins as Tybalt, Emma McDonough as Benvolio, and Quinn Spivey as Mercutio and the apothecary.

    Their youthfulness is right for the characters, especially the impetuous ones, and their Webster training is evident in their fully realized, beautifully spoken performances.

    The work of the entire cast is distinguished. Donna M. Parrone captures the warmth and the humor in the nurse when she is supporting Juliet and makes the moment chilling when the nurse abandons that support. As the friar, Nick Freed seems to be a source of wise counsel for the young lovers until bad luck interferes with his plan. Robert Stevenson’s ferocity is shocking when Capulet lays the law down following Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris, who is decent and sympathetic in Nic Tayborn’s portrayal.

    Hillary Gokenbach as Lady Capulet, Rhianna Anesa as Lady Montague, and Don McClendon as Prince are persons of substance, while Matthew Kauzlarich has fun with the role of Peter.

    Cris Edwards’s scenic design has no frills but provides exactly what every location requires. Amanda Handle and Tracy Newcomb’s eclectic costume designs point up the story’s universality by not pinning the production down in a specific period. John “JT” Taylor’s lighting, Tori Meyer’s sound, and SH Boygen’s properties serve the production well. Dennis Saldana choreographed the exciting stage combat, with Erik Peterson as the fight captain.

    Romeo and Juliet continues through February 20 in the Kirkwood Community Center’s Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer Road.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Gerry Love