Romeo and Juliet is so well known that hardly anyone needs to hear the summary of the action in the prologue. Even so, the prologue was striking in the recent staging by Webster University’s Sargent Conservatory of Theatre Arts.
Director Jef Awada recognized that the prologue could convey something more important to a modern audience than the story of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. When the theatergoers heard that an “ancient grudge” had broken out in “new mutiny,” it broke out right in front of them. The speaker had to repeatedly dodge brawling Montagues and Capulets who charged out onto the stage. The key point that the families’ feud was endangering the people of Verona could not have been made more forcefully. The revitalization of the prologue is worth mentioning because it was typical of way this splendid production enriched the viewer’s experience.
Lily Tomasic’s scenic design added to the difficulty of navigating this environment. The set had more stairways, landings, and archways to cope with than just the one raised platform needed for the balcony scene. The evocative painted background echoed the set’s complexities.
Rose Bonarek’s costume designs and Rebecca Mack’s wigs and makeup located the play in its original Renaissance setting. Bonarek’s extensive use of leather accentuated the need for protection from violence. The stage combat was appropriately unsettling in the fight choreography by Paul Steger, who was assisted by Jack Kalan. They found surprising ways for Mercutio and Tybalt to receive their death blows.
The play’s most endearing moments were elevated by Zoe DeYoung’s choreography for the festivities at Capulet’s home and by Will Bonfiglio and Rachel Tibbetts’ direction of the intimacy. The atmosphere was enhanced by Ash Neece’s lighting and Katelyn Gillette’s sound.
The cast was excellent. Jacob Farmer as Romeo and Piper Murray as Juliet captured the passionate connection between the title characters with looks, gestures, and inflections that communicated as much about the couple as their lines. Their rash decisions grew out of the traits the young lovers had already displayed.
Luka Cruz’s impulsiveness as Mercutio and Drew Bates’ relentlessness as Tybalt made their characters’ deadly conflict seem inevitable. Al Bastin’s Friar Lawrence was an impressive authority figure until he buckled under ill fortune. Sarah Emberling’s Benvolio lived up the meaning of the character’s name as a person of good will. The characters who fail the young couple in various ways were admirably portrayed by Mia Perritt as Juliet’s nurse, Anthony Comunale as Capulet, Gillian Guthrie as Lady Capulet, Colby Willis as Montague, and Matisse Carmack as Lady Montague (and the apothecary).
The fully invested supporting performers included Alex Daspit as the prince’s guard and others; Dominic DeCicco as Escalus; Kyleigh Grimsbo as Balthasar; Will Hancock as Peter, Isaiah Henry as Paris; Cali Noack as Prince’s Guard and others; Ryan Porter as Gregory and the chief watchman; Daniela Rodriguez as Paris’s page, the prologue, and others; Isa Venere as Sampson and the second watch; and Marilyn Wilson as Abraham, the third watch, and Friar John.
Like every Shakespeare production I have seen at the Sargent Conservatory, this Romeo and Juliet was not to be missed.
Photo by JMerkle Photo