Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Romeo and Juliet
So, with that in mind, and setting aside a glorious wealth of beautiful romantic moments (and ghastly death scenes), this Romeo and Juliet could be casually described as "Bruno Mars meets 'Alice In Wonderland.'" And young love grows up fast, thanks to director Elena Araoz, in this summer's big adventure in Forest Park's Shakespeare Glen.
Sigrid Wise, as the 13 year-old Juliet, is rapturous and reasoning in her long curling blonde hair and blue dress; and Reynaldo Piniella is swashbuckling and seductive in T-shirt, ski jacket and shades. And thanks to a festival of the Blessed Virgin in act one, scene one, the show's big rivalry between Montagues and Capulets starts things off with a bang. (There is no recited "prologue" in this staging, so jump in, and away we go!)
But aside from the absolute gratitude I felt during the sublimely beautiful balcony scene, and the anguish over each of the grisly death scenes, the nice thing about Shakespeare (in this famous case) is how wonderfully "lateral" the storytelling isin other words, how much a great ensemble shares the load of recounting the swirling mess of tragic accidents and tragic misunderstandings; and how a first-rate cast like this can make particular story's elements echo across three hours' running time.
Last year's A Winter's Tale seemed to lie almost entirely on the uneasy head of its mad king. But Romeo and Juliet allows for a lot of magical supporting cast moments: quite possibly our finest actor, Gary Glasgow, gets tons of stage time as Friar Laurence, who counsels Romeo, and admonishes him, and recounts the teenager's past immaturity. Meanwhile, Jane Paradise is sumptuously foolish (and endlessly kind) as Juliet's Nurse. These grown actors function as stalwart chorus for each ingénue. And, I can't emphasize enough, you get to see Gary Glasgow a lot during this one, and you're an idiot if you don't seize the chance. Likewise, Ms. Paradise supplies a reliably giddy undertone for much of the playexcept for one critical moment (in tragic structure) when she recounts the death of her own daughter, who would have been the same age as Juliet. The world is a much larger, grander, more beautiful place for plays like this, and performers like these. (Plus, it's free.)
Stepping back for just a moment, it is a great testament to 70 or more years of (relative) peace and prosperity in the land, that we have so much artistic talent to draw from, for festivals like this. Michael James Reed is the perfect dad (and perfectly Shakespearean when things go wrong) as Lord Capulet, and Cherie Corinne Rice is elegant and regal (but also a "real housewife of Shakespeare's Verona," you might say) as Lady Capulet. David Heron and Patrice Foster are sleek but heartbroken as Romeo's parents.
Pete Winfrey easily unlocks regal outrage as the Prince, separating the battling factions; and elsewhere shows youthful tenderness as Romeo's rival Paris. Terrell Wheeler, as Mercutio, is great, taunting everyone to the show's first infamous death scenewhich is at least as awful as any of the others, especially when you see the way these teenagers mishandle him, and then realize that none of them (in the late 16th century) has ever seen an actual paramedic at work, over a frightened stab-wound victim. Mr. Wheeler and all the fatal victims in the play are reduced to sudden damned horror and desolation in their final living moments, as style and romance are bleached-out in an instant by wretched mortality. As much as that magnificent balcony scene, all the awful teenaged deaths (and most especially Juliet's) are what you'll remember the following day.
The rivalries are strong and carry on throughout, with Dakota Granados as Tybalt and Antonio Rodriguez as Benvolio. The various swordfights are well done, but the one that's thrashed out in near darkness is the most frightening (because, of course, "near darkness"). The whole thing is full of common sense and perfect inflection, both in spoken language and emotion. There are two funerals in the show, with lovely trumpet voluntaries by Sean Smith, and a fun group dance number at the party where the two young lovers first meet. Like much of youth, it's all half exciting party, and half lonely nightmare.
Romeo and Juliet, through June 24, 2018, in Forest Park, just off Fine Arts Drive on the east side of Art Hill between the Saint Louis Zoo and the Saint Louis Art Museum. For more information visit www.sfstl.com.
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association