“Romeo & Juliet”
Westport Country Playhouse
A stunning “Romeo & Juliet” can currently be seen at Westport Country Playhouse, under the masterful directorial hand of Mark Lamos. Working wonderfully with his designers and a flawless group of actors, Lamos gives this “Romeo & Juliet” the feeling that it is almost being performed for the first time. And while Hartford Stage presented a fine (if somewhat anachronistic) production of this Shakespeare play a couple seasons back, the “Romeo & Juliet” at Westport Country Playhouse feels more like the genuine article, managing to summon up the actual time and place that the show occurs in.
This austere attention to detail ultimately pays off handsomely, with the first act being pretty great and the second half almost breathtaking as the show marches mercilessly to its tragic finale. “Romeo & Juliet” at Westport Country Playhouse is quite an achievement and it proves beyond a doubt that Mark Lamos is one of our finest Shakespearean directors.
On Michael Yeargan’s beautifully designed set, this “Romeo & Juliet” begins slowly as it gradually introduces its key players. Just about the entire cast is distinguished and, most crucially, the actors playing the two central characters are pretty close to ideal. James Cusati-Moyer is a handsome and sympathetic Romeo, almost fresh-faced in his appearance, but he also displays the ability to stand up to and battle others, when he must. What’s more, his love for Juliet is almost palpable from the moment that they meet.
Nicole Rodenburg is all you could ask for as Juliet, looking quite beautiful and pure of soul, but displaying a strong sense of spirit underneath, as well. Indeed, the balcony scene between the two leads is just wonderful and their love for each other is deeply felt, even knowing that, due to circumstances beyond their control, it is doomed from the start. Still, the moments that these two lovers share onstage burn brightly and one almost longs for their romance to defy the odds and survive.
The other leading parts are also taken on by terrific actors. Peter Francis James makes for a warm and excellent Friar Lawrence and Triney Sandoval is an almost terrifying Lord Capulet, father of Juliet. Also doing well are Jim Ludlum’s Samson and Tyler Fauntleroy’s Benvolio, and J. Kenneth Campbell as Escalus is just as striking. Alison Cimmet is a touching and heartbreaking Lady Capulet and Felicity Jones Latta is just splendid as the Nurse. However, Patrick Andrews’ Mercutio is perhaps the biggest standout, filling his character with vigor and heroism, and his sword-fighting scenes (masterfully supervised by fight director Michael Rossmy) with the equally strong Dave Register as Tybalt are quite remarkable.
As mentioned, Michael Yeargan’s scenic design is resplendent and the costumes designed by Fabian Fidel Aguilar are simply glorious. Matthew Richard’s lighting design is superb and the sound design by David Budries is crystal clear, so one can easily make out every word. Director Mark Lamos works as beautifully with his designers as he does with his actors and the results are pretty astounding.
Still, what makes this “Romeo & Juliet” ultimately so exceptional is the feeling, especially in the second act, that, even knowing the plot and the scenes in this play, the delivery of Shakespeare’s dialogue seems newly minted, almost as if these words had never been spoken on a stage before. Consequently, the final scenes are rendered utterly fresh, making the final descent into tragedy and darkness all the more crushing and heartrending. It is somewhat difficult to fully describe the feelings summoned up by this startling “Romeo & Juliet” at Westport Country Playhouse. Suffice it is to say, though, that a visit to this show is an absolute must.
“Romeo & Juliet” continues performances at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT through November 19, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.wetportplayhouse.org or call the box office at 203-227-4177.
Photo: (L-R): James Cusati-Moyer and Nicole Rodenburg
Photo by Carol Rosegg