Entertainment » Theatre

Romeo & Juliet

by Rebecca Thomas
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Feb 3, 2012
Stella Heath (Juliet) and Michael Raver (Romeo) in "Romeo and Juliet" Orlando Shakespeare Theater
Stella Heath (Juliet) and Michael Raver (Romeo) in "Romeo and Juliet" Orlando Shakespeare Theater   (Source:Tony Firriolo)

"Romeo and Juliet," playing at The Orlando Shakespeare Theater, has often been referred to as the quintessential example of love being portrayed in a play. It is the one piece of theater that even the most dim-witted teenager can name when asked for an example of the performing arts and unquestionably the most common answer when teenage girls are asked, "What is the ultimate example of romantic love?"

Whether or not it is a play about a doomed true love or two lusty teenagers is a matter for some debate, but the themes and message are clear: a house divided against itself cannot stand, and love really is meant to be till death do us part.

Immediately upon entering the theater, the set design takes your breath away. Rather than feeling as though you have entered a theater to observe a play, it seems instead that you have entered the play itself and merely are standing by as a spectator. The set had a mystical quality that one would expect more in a play like "A Midsummer Night's Dream" than "Romeo and Juliet."

The stage is indeed two-tiered -- what would this play be without a balcony? -- but it is built with a wondrous tree, as if from a mythical forest, as one of the pillars holding up the upper circle. Moreover, this marvelous conifer is not only beautiful but also functional, serving as the method by which Romeo ascends to the balcony to share his famed embrace with Juliet.

Scenic Designer Bob Phillips is not only to be congratulated but also perhaps rewarded with some sort of accolade for creating such a stunning set. Although they have sponsors and an endowment, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater is by no means in the same category (resource-wise) as larger theaters like the Bob Carr. Given this fact, the effect and atmosphere he created should truly be drunk in and appreciated by the audience.

One of the contemporary touches that definitely added to the performance was to mix modern music with traditional dancing during the Montague's party. Instead of listening to madrigals like "Greensleeves" or "Now is the Month of Maying" as would be the tradition in Elizabethan England, famed pop star Pink's new hit single "Raise Your Glass" began blaring and the party really got started.

Nonetheless, the players performed a traditional courtly dance, except with a bit more bounce in their steps. This ecstatic performance was the perfect lead-in to the initial encounter between Romeo and Juliet, who were actually raised up on a platform to exchange their foremost caresses and of course their first kiss -- the same platform that would later serve as their wedding bed; a scene which also incorporated a Pink song: "Glitter in the Air."

The true stars of the show were Anne Hering as the nurse and Geoffrey Kent as Mercutio -- a character so beloved by the audiences everywhere in this play that most critics agree he had to die or else have the play renamed after him.

As for the players themselves, certain actors certainly stood out as masters of their craft beyond their younger counterparts. Everyone played their parts well, but some embodied their characters entirely. The true stars of the show were Anne Hering as the nurse and Geoffrey Kent as Mercutio -- a character so beloved by the audiences everywhere in this play that most critics agree he had to die or else have the play renamed after him. Both Hering and Kent were in perfect form, each making no small show of comedic lechery and consistently stealing scenes from the stars themselves.

Also deserving of praise is Rudy Roushdi for his portrayal of Benvolio; both the constant companion and confidant for Romeo as well as the ever-present peacekeeper between the feuding Montagues and Capulets. His ability to play both the prying friend, attempting to cheer up his cousin, as well as the voice of reason when explaining a fight, showed the breadth of his acting abilities.

Moreover, Wynn Harmon as Friar Lawrence played the perfect priest. One could genuinely see the wisdom in his eyes as he mulled over the cost/benefit ratio of secretly marrying Romeo and Juliet as well as the weight on his shoulders the moment he realized how terribly wrong his plan to help the young couple had turned.

It would be unfair to discuss the acting prowess of the players without mentioning the stars themselves: Michael Raver as Romeo and Stella Heath as Juliet. Their performances were very well executed, if at times a bit overdone. Nonetheless, that is in concert with the concept of this young pair being suddenly and irrevocably drawn together by true love.

They played out falling in love as one would expect teenagers to play out falling in love: hysterically, ecstatically and of course fatalistically. In that way they played their parts as ideally as one could ask them to.

The ultimate question is whether this really was a play about true love, or, as the more skeptical critics would say, about two teenagers playing at being in love, and ultimately taking things too far for a romance that lasted only two days. We shall leave that question to be argued by scholars and imagine, at least in the case of this performance, that this was indeed true love incarnate.

Three and a half out of five stars for a performance that added a new contemporary twist to "Romeo and Juliet" while still staying true to the Bard's original masterpiece.

"Romeo and Juliet" plays through March 17 at The Orlando Shakespeare Theater, 812 E Rollins St., Orlando, FL 32803. For more information, visit the //orlandoshakes.org/: The Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s website.

Rebecca Thomas is a freelance writer and photographer in the Orlando area who has worked as an independent contractor for several media outlets over the years, including but not limited to: U.S. News & World Report, The World Picture Network (WpN) and Aurora Photos. She has a BA from Cornell University in Anthropology and History. She enjoys fluffy dogs, Starbucks seasonal coffee blends, and promoting the advancement of LGBT and other causes through her writing and reviews.


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