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“Romeo and Juliet”

Hartford Stage

 

Hartford Stage’s current production of “Romeo and Juliet” is a powerfully directed show that also features a first-rate cast. From the moment one sees the expansive, staggering back wall of the stage, which seems to feature individual gravestones all lined up together, one gets the sense that this staging of “Romeo and Juliet” is in very good hands. As directed and designed by Darko Tresnjak, every line and every moment onstage is given full weight and meaning and Shakespeare’s text has truly been mined for all it is worth.

Hartford Stage is also blessed with an enchanting Juliet, played by Kaliswa Brewster, and Chris Ghaffari makes a handsome and ardent Romeo. In fact, just about all the roles are well-handled, with particularly stellar work by Kandis Chappell as the Nurse and a sympathetic Friar Laurence, played by Charles Janasz. And while this “Romeo and Juliet” does look somewhat unorthodox (there isn’t even really an actual balcony for Juliet to stand on), this current production at Hartford Stage ultimately proves to be quite worthy.

Being a relative newcomer to seeing “Romeo and Juliet” onstage (my primary familiarity with this play is the wonderful movie version from the 1960s), I don’t really have much to compare Hartford Stage’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” to. That being said, this current staging seems to take hold within the first twenty minutes, and maintains that vice-like grip right to the conclusion.

Every staging of this play will rise and fall on its casting of the title characters and, in this particular production, those parts are extremely well chosen. Kaliswa Brewster is luminous as Juliet, sweet natured and lovely, and she seems to glow from the moment that she takes the stage. If Chris Gharrari isn’t always quite on his costar’s level, he is suitably good-looking and appealing, and his scenes with Kaliswa Brewster can be beautiful and heartbreaking in the love that they radiate toward each other.

This is one production, however, where every performer is quite good. Particularly notable in Hartford Stage’s “Romeo and Juliet” are Kandis Chappell as Juliet’s nurse (who makes the most of her every line and does wonderful things with the fan that she carries); Wyatt Fenner, who shines as Mercutio; the devious Lady Capulet, portrayed by Callie Beaulieu; and especially the warm and thoughtful Charles Janasz, who makes a terrific Friar Laurence.

This “Romeo and Juliet” is also an attractive show, too, even if some of the director’s touches can seem anachronistic. Pointedly, there are a couple of peculiar costume choices (costumes designed by Ilona Somogyi), such as having Mercutio enter in a modern bathing suit and flippers on his feet. Also, I missed Juliet having an actual balcony; instead there is a platform that comes out from the back of the stage. Overall, though, the production does look impressive, with especially striking lighting design by Matthew Richards, and it certainly makes full use of the spaciousness of the stage area at Hartford Stage.

More so than anything else, however, this “Romeo and Juliet” ultimately works, which is what counts. Director Darko Tresnjak has honed his production to the point where one hangs on every word and the finale packs quite a punch, even knowing how the story will end. This “Romeo and Juliet” proves to be gripping and, with that excellent cast, the show more than satisfies. So, whether you are a relative newcomer to “Romeo and Juliet” (like me) or this is your seventh time seeing this play, Hartford Stage’s production is definitely worth a visit.

“Romeo and Juliet” continues at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through March 20, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.hartfordstage.org or call the box office at 860-527-5151.

 

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