Friday, February 5, 2010

The Colonial's Romeo and Juliet is a rare chance to see the Guthrie's magic

Laura Esposito (Juliet) and Sonny Valicenti (Romeo) in The Acting Company/Guthrie Theater co-production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Production photos by Michal Daniel.

I often marvel at how those of us who live in the Berkshires year round can expect - with a little patience - to see the best that the arts world can offer. The great artists seem to find their way here. Eventually. Certainly that is true with symphonic music, dance companies and contemporary art.

The Colonial and Mahaiwe go even further than Tanglewood, Mass MoCA and Jacob's Pillow in that they book those companies and artists that we might otherwise never see. Such is the case with the Romeo and Juliet arriving next Friday, February 12 at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.

It's certainly not a "gay" Romeo and Juliet - though there's a concept to ponder! It is instead a resetting of Shakespeare's most popular play to a time closer than our own, the beginning of the twentieth century.

The "boys" of Romeo and Juliet are full of fun and pranks.

With the resetting comes a Romeo and Juliet that is closer, in some ways, to West Side Story than to 16th century Verona. The words are as Shakespeare wrote them, but the action, and acting, is contemporary. Purists may object, but for the adventurous, it is provocative, and ribald fun. And it showcases some of the youngest, most talented actors in America today.

This is a co-production by Minnesota's Guthrie Theater and The Acting Company. It was created and first staged last month (January 9-31) in Minneapolis, and is now engaged in a 25-city tour. The New England appearances are made possible, in part, with support from the New England Foundation on the Arts as well as funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Fight! Isaac Woofter (Tybalt), Sonny Valicenti (Romeo) and Hugh Kennedy (Benvolio)

Romeo and Juliet is a familiar tale to most of us, recounting the tragedy of star-crossed teenage love ensnared in a family feud. Bounding between soaring romanticism and battles of wit, festive celebrations and bloody duels to the death, the play of cruel destiny runs on high energy throughout, as impulsive and emotionally hot-blooded characters bring to life the greatest love story of all time.

Evoking the lyricism of Shakespeare's sonnets, the timeless and deeply moving Romeo and Juliet exquisitely embodies the brief joy of youthful passion and ecstasy. The young couple loves each other passionately as only teenagers can, while their families' mutual disdain and prejudice lead to revenge and an irreversible fate. Young love has never been so delightful or as dangerous as in this stirring new production.

Reviews of this production ranged from mixed to raves, but the cast has had time to settle in, and the production should be highly polished. Most critics remarked on how well the usually watered down comedy and fight scenes played. In the production the guys use walking sticks which seemed odd until the big fight scene where they turned out to hide the real weapon - swords. The "prick of the moon" and "maidenhead" lines which happens between Mercutio and the nurse also brings some hitherto naughty nuances to light.

"The Guthrie has proven to be the perfect ‘incubator' for our national tour," said Acting Company Producing Director Margot Harley. "It is a breathtaking theatrical complex replete with staff, artisans and workshops to bring the most brilliant work to life. Our co-production of Henry V was thrilling to be part of and I know this season's Romeo and Juliet will be equally rewarding to audiences as well as for The Acting Company and the Guthrie."

A cast member heads home through a dusting of snow after a performance at the Guthrie. He should feel right at home here in the Berkshires.

"We're truly excited to embark on the second production of our partnership with The Acting Company," said Guthrie Director Joe Dowling. "After the success of last year's production and tour of Henry V, we look forward to continued success this season with Romeo and Juliet."

Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Penny Metropulos directs. The cast for the traveling production is identical to the one on stage at the Guthrie. Sonny Valicenti (2009's Henry V) and 2008 GEx alumnus Laura Esposito leading the 13-member cast in the title roles.

The production will also feature UofM/Guthrie B.F.A. alumni Hugh Kennedy (Benvolio), Elizabeth Stahlmann (Nurse/Samson), William Sturdivant (Mercutio/Prince) and Christine Weber (Lady Capulet), Guthrie Experience alumni Jamie Smithson (Paris/Abraham) and Isaac Woofter (Tybalt/Apothecary), Henry V company member Chris Thorn (Capulet), and newcomers Jesse Bonnell (Gregory/Friar John), Raymond L. Chapman (Friar Laurence), Jason McDowell Green (Montague/Peter) and Myxolydia Tyler (Lady Montague/Balthasar).

Troublemaker Tybalt (R) (Isaac Woofter) gets his due from Romeo (Sonny Valicenti).

The Romeo and Juliet artistic team also includes Neil Patel (Set Designer), Mathew J. LeFebvre (Costume Designer), Michael Chybowski (Lighting Designer), Victor Zupanc (Music Composition), Scott W. Edwards (Sound Designer), Marcela Lorca (Choreography), Felix Ivanov (Fight Direction), Andrew Wade (Voice and Speech Consultant), Sara Phillips (Voice and Speech Consultant), Corey Atkins (Staff Director), Karen Parlato (Stage Manager) and Nick Tochelli (Assistant Stage Manager).

Tickets and information:

The Colonial Theatre
111 South Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
P: (413) 448-8084

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