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Shakespeare in the Park pays homage to 'Romeo and Juliet'

For hundreds of years, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has inspired readers with the notion that unyielding love has the power to draw people together in a way unlike any other emotion.

Under the direction of Daniel Moore, this well-known tale of romance and sacrifice is a challenging, yet promising production for the Woodward Shakespeare Festival actors to tackle.

With Shakespeare’s classic story comes the tempestuous relationship between two ardent young lovers who are kept apart by their feuding families: the Capulets and the Montagues.

The young couple, Romeo and Juliet, are prevented from openly expressing their love due to Juliet’s betrothal to Paris, an esteemed gentleman with advantageous ancestry. Romeo’s close friend Mercutio attempts to help the forbidden pair as they continue to rendezvous secretly to avoid the inevitable objections that would ensue if their affair was made public.

This was my first experience with the Woodward Shakespeare Festival and I was not entirely sure what to expect, but overall I was pleased with my experience.

Romeo (Ryan Woods) and Juliet (Brandi Martin) gave admirable performances. They played the characters with confidence and believability. I often forget that in reality the characters are only just beginning their teen years and the leads’ portrayals of Romeo and Juliet seemed to carry more maturity than actual adolescents possess. Although the story is tragic, comic relief was inserted throughout to keep the play from becoming too depressing.

My favorite character was definitely Mercutio (Edward Anderson). His lines were delivered with an infectious sense of humor and his exaggerated gesticulations made his role believable. Anderson also had the opportunity to showcase his less comedic side when he was stabbed to death; the demise of this eccentric character was one of the more serious and moving scenes. I appreciate when actors are able to fully immerse themselves in their parts, as their lack of reserve draws the audience in and creates a much more endearing performance.

The costumes were relatively simple and the characters did not undergo any wardrobe changes. The Capulets wore varying shades of red, while the Montagues donned blue attire to help the audience differentiate between the families.

The simplicity of the set and props kept the viewers’ focus on the actors. There were rarely set changes — the most elaborate prop was a bed — and the lack of new scenery caused the audience to use their imaginations more, which I considered to be a good thing.

Donald Munro of The Fresno Bee claims that he felt Moore “ramp[ed] up the pace to a point almost approaching parody, with characters spitting through dialogue at tongue-twister speed.” I agree that at times the characters appeared to breeze through their lines quite rapidly, but I fear that anything longer than this 90-minute production would cause the audience to begin to lose interest.

My only complaint concerns the sound system and the seemingly-random selection of music that accompanied the performance. At times it was slightly difficult to hear or understand the actors. The choice of music was in my opinion totally out of place in a Shakespearean setting; it seemed more appropriate for tribal festivities than a tragic European love story.

This was my first time attending a Woodward Shakespeare production and I enjoyed it. I do not particularly like Shakespeare in general, but my love of witnessing live theater made the play worth my while. The fact that there is no cost is also an incentive and I hope to return to future shows from this venue.

Performances will continue every Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. through Sept. 17. Seating is free, but reserved seats can be purchased for $10.

For more theater reviews, read the Aug. 22 article, Exceptional cast, tragic plot fuel ‘Les Miserables’.

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