Everyone speaks of the 'universal nature' of Shakespeare—the 'timelessness' of the language he used and the themes he wrote about.
But can the words of Shakespeare be effectively injected into a modern Miami Beach-esque pool party and still be successful?
Apparently, yes they can.
With a thoroughly modern (and well-executed) design concept, along with a strong cast that clearly did its homework in developing and understanding the text, Louisville native director Tony Speciale and Actors Theatre have succeeded in keeping The Bard alive nearly 400 years after his actual death.
From the beginning phrases of one of the most annoyingly entertaining curtain speeches ever given to the opening lines of the play, delivered while characters play video games on their flat-screen televisions, the actors captured the interest of the opening night crowd.
The colorful world of act one centers around an actual, water-filled swimming pool on the set, and is highlighted by the easy camaraderie and teenage machismo of Romeo (Grantham Coleman) and his buddies, led by the boldly irreverent Mercutio (Nate Miller).
Miller, and in fact, the cast as a whole, has no qualms in riding the extensive sexual innuendo that Shakespeare embedded throughout the script—which makes for a production unlike many seen today, but which would be akin to the bawdy environment of theatre in Shakespeare’s day.
The festive mood is darkened when the long feud between the Capulets (Juliet’s family) and the Montagues (Romeo’s family) is reignited as Tybalt, Mercutio and Romeo exchange words, fists, and wounds.
Act one ends with death and banishment…and things don’t get better from there.
In stark contrast to the techno-thumping party atmosphere of the first act comes the bleak and desperate (come on—you know how this story ends) act two.
With many of the merry-makers either dead or banished, the comedy of the production comes to a crashing halt.
This is a tragedy, after all.
But the cast keeps right on chugging. Brendan Averett gives a compelling performance as loyal Friar Laurence, and Bruce McKenzie’s Lord Capulet drives a heart-wrenching scene where he vows to disown Juliet if she does not obey his wishes to marry Paris (Matthew Stucky).
Myra Lucretia Taylor’s Nurse is beautifully played with love, humor and depth. She is a delight.
In the end, there are no surprises. Love doesn’t conquer all, and it’s not happy ever after.
But Romeo and Juliet at Actors Theatre sure is a good way to spend an evening.
So, welcome back, Tony Speciale. And please, come again.
Romeo and Juliet runs through September 24. Tickets start at $35 for most performances and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 502-584-1205.
Check the Actors Theatre website for details on several discount ticket offers.
Image: Courtesy Actors Theatre