Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A star-crossed Romeo and Juliet

A theatre company's reach should always exceed its grasp, I suppose - but that gap looms particularly large in the Happy Medium Theatre's current production of Romeo and Juliet (at left, which runs through August 25 at the BCA).  I have to be honest, this is a long haul of a show, because in their eagerness to jump into the big leagues, the Happy Medium folks seem to have hoped that the sheer greatness of this play might somehow sustain them, even though they lacked the casting or production resources to do it justice.  They did have local star Paula Plum on board as director, which I too thought would have helped - only Plum flounders quite a bit here, so in the end her presence is a wash.

Still, you only learn how to act Shakespeare by acting it, and even this counts at least as a first step in most of this cast's Shakespearean training, so you may want to support their work (just as long as you know what you're getting into).  To Plum's credit, she has cut the play aggressively, and generally well (aside from one odd scene where we see Lady Cap at the crock pot, and Lord Cap in an apron); her version, though it nods inconclusively toward racial issues, is basically traditional, and keeps moving, no matter what.  And Angie Jepson's fight direction (given the tight confines of this stage, she has chosen to work with daggers) is generally strong.

But as a student acting experience, I think the lesson to be learned here is: don't act Shakespeare this way.  Try not to shout, particularly in small spaces, and try to think of your characterization as an organic whole, with an internal coherence, rather than as a string of "bits" that will pull you through your scenes.  Avoid  "going for it," whenever you can; aim for subtlety as much as possible.

There are a few bright spots in the acting: Michael Underhill comes through, as he usually does, as Tybalt, and June Kfoury has what it takes to make a memorable Nurse (with more careful direction, she might have made it).  Likewise Joey Pelletier has his moments as Mercutio, but often falls prey to the show's gonzo tendencies; meanwhile William Schuller makes an effectively haunting Apothecary, and Sharon Squires conveys a memorable dignity as Lady (and Lord!) Montague, but somehow misses any of that poisonous ancient grudge everybody's talking about.  Alas, elsewhere inexperience and miscasting tended to overwhelm good intentions in this star-crossed show.

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