By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
When two young lovers defy their warring households, both alike in dignity, they set out on a perilous journey that can only lead toward their inevitable, undeniable deaths in William Shakespeare’s iconic masterpiece, “Romeo & Juliet.”
We lay our scene in the Neapolitan village of Little Italy, subbing for fair Verona (and briefly, Mantua). The time is 1930, on a moon-drenched Mulberry Street. The gangs of New York, in this case, are the Montague’s and the Capulet’s. The longstanding blood feud between the two families has made civil hands unclean.
When Romeo Montague (Dylan Marquis Meyers) crashes a masquerade ball at the Capulet manse, he has a faithful encounter with Juliet (Adrianne Knapp). After clever word play on the maiden’s balcony, they kiss, and, from that moment on, parting becomes sweet sorrow.
The two are secretly wed by Friar Lawrence (James FitzGerald), and things get chaotic quickly. Juliet’s parents, Lord (Martin Giles) and Lady (Shammen McCune) Capulet have promised their daughter to Paris (Jonathan Visser). Meanwhile, Romeo is embroiled in a battle between the families. When a knife fight escalates, Romeo’s friend, Mercutio (Alec Silverblatt), is slain. In retaliation, Romeo kills Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (Daniel Pivovar).
The situation is dire and Romeo is banished from his home town, just as Juliet is set to wed Paris. Friar Lawrence cooks up a cockamamie plan involving a potion that simulates death. His plans gang agley, as the best laid plans often do.
The story is a sad but familiar one.
Side note: Since the play’s first folio was published in 1623 (and performed nearly a century before that), the spoiler shields are not engaged. Matter of fact, the first stanza, gleefully orated by the director, Alan Stanford, states, matter-of-factly, “A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.” It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.
The play is perfectly executed, performed by some of the city’s most notable actors, alphabetically from Cheston to Visser.
Meyers is a quixotic Romeo, filled with flights of fancy. He brought a lighthearted mirth to the tragic teen. He is buoyant, ebullient and effervescent.
Knapp is a luminescent as Romeo’s brief bride. She is, indeed, a bright angel.
Lamar K. Cheston’s Benvolio is excellently cast. He is the lone voice of reason on the Montague side. Cheston has a commanding stage presence.
Silberblatt is a mercurial Mercutio, strutting about the stage with loutish swagger, chewing the sparse scenery, preening with puerile bawdiness, relishing his part (literally and figuratively) with gusto. It is performed for the groundlings as originally intended by the author – in other words, it’s a bit PG 13 (and might not sit well with the Sunday matinee crowd).
McCune’s performance as Lady Capulet is compelling. She owns the stage every time she appears. She is perfectly matched with Giles as her husband (another impressive performer).
Special mentions to smaller roles: PICT favorites, FitzGerald and Karen Baum are brilliant as the friar and the nurse. It’s hard to come up with new compliments for these old favorites.
Johnmichael Bohach’s set is stunning, bedazzled by the backdrop of twinkling lights on sheer black curtains in the Fred Rogers Studio. The lighting by Keith Truax sets the mood; deep indigo hues are illuminated by an almost ever-present moon.
There might never have been a story of more woe; than this of Juliet and her Romeo, but it’s a damn good time and you should go.
“Romeo and Juliet” runs until November 4 at the Fred Rogers Studio, WQED, 4802 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. For more information, click here.