by Beki Pineda

ROMEO AND JULIET – Written by William Shakespeare; Directed by Christopher DuVal. Produced by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado campus, Boulder) through August 10. Tickets available at 303-492-8008 or coloradoshakes.org.

Courtesy CSF

Writing in the 1590’s, Shakespeare goes back to familiar territory for his script of ROMEO AND JULIET. The plot for the young lovers had been previously performed as a play based on an Italian “romance” novel, then translated to the English in a poem by the young poet, Arthur Brooke, who had seen it on stage. So the plot is familiar to the London play-goers. Shakespeare just elevates the old story to a new level. As he did with many of his plays.

From the many movie adaptations and theatrical productions, the modern audiences are also aware of the “star-crossed” lovers – “For never was there a story of more woe – Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” What is easy to forget is that, in spite of the tragic ending, the script has a great deal of humor which this company brings to glorious life. Emma Messenger as Juliet’s Nurse provides many rounds of domestic humor as she remembers caring for Juliet as a child and becoming a pawn in their romantic machinations. She becomes the Polonius of this script, unable to stop herself from talking and interrupting others. Even the Nurse’s servant Peter played by Jason Toennis becomes a notable comic character. Romeo in his youthful enthusiasms – whether it be for heartbreak or newfound love – reflects the confusion of raging hormones in a comic way. As played by Dante Rossi, it brings back memories of one’s own youthful adventures. Even Juliet (a lovely Madison Hart in her CSF debut), once she is freed from the bonds of caretakers and chaperones, lets her sweet side expand to include teasing and laughing with her lover.

It isn’t until Act Two when duels break out in the streets and Mercutio (a powerful Anne Penner in a gender-bending role), Romeo’s friend, is accidentally killed in a sword fight and Romeo feels compelled to avenge her death or be thought less of a man, that the mood changes to dangerous. The complicated plot that would allow the lovers to escape and be together is hatched with the help of Friar Laurence (Gareth Saxe) and things start to go wrong. A letter is undelivered and the carefully prepared scenario falls apart. A tale oft told of feuding families that result in the death of innocents.

The outdoor company at this season’s Festival have a polished professionalism about themselves that move the plays along at a nice clip, find all the humor between the lines and in the lines, and seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves working together on stage. It is such  a pleasure to watch.

Technically, Christopher DuVal as both Director and Fight Choreographer, brought an energy to the cast that transformed the script. The costumes by Hugh Hanson are handsome and indicative of each player’s place in this society. The set by Caitlin Ayer which included partially disintegrated brickwork seemed to indicate a sense of foreboding before the play even started. One tiny little bit of nit-picking:  Staging the death scene of Juliet, then Romeo, then Juliet again with their heads upstage seemed to diminish the dramatic quality of the ending. If there was some way to lift their heads so the audience could see these poignant last moments . . .

A WOW factor of 8.5!!