Aisle Say (Twin Cities): ROMEO and JULIET

AISLE SAY Twin Cities


by William Shakespeare
Directed by Penny Metropulos
Guthrie Theater
818 South Second Street, Minneapolis, MN/ 612-225-6000

Reviewed by Vlad Dima

Over the years, the Guthrie has established itself as the perfect place to see Shakespeare plays. The productions are always professional, the direction is on point, and the company as a whole has shown tremendous attention to detail. The staging of Romeo and Juliet, done in collaboration with the Acting Company, respects these traditions—a beautiful and very practical set designed by Neil Patel, impeccable lights and sound—but it also comes up short in some other regards.

I suppose it is difficult to make such a timeless, extremely well-known story exciting for a contemporary audience. Where does the drama come from when we all know who dies and what happens in the end? It has to come from the emotion and energy exhibited by the actors. And for the most part, they succeed in sustaining the drama on acting alone. Laura Esposito’s Juliet gets better with every scene, and really blossoms in the second part. The playful and childish Juliet in the first part is not as convincing as the passionate and tragic Juliet in the second part. Esposito’s progression culminates in a powerful monologue scene, in which she effortlessly mixes hesitation, love, longing and fear. The same cannot be said about her love interest, Romeo, played by Sonny Valicenti. He simply cannot match Juliet’s intensity in the second part, and there is not enough chemistry between the title characters. On occasion, he falls short even in scenes with secondary characters. For example, Raymond L. Chapman, playing Friar Lawrence, towers over Romeo in their scenes together. Furthermore, in one of those scenes, as Romeo lies on the floor wailing because of his longing, the audience’s reaction is laughter. Probably not quite what Shakespeare had in mind.

However, there are other secondary parts that steal the spotlight. Elizabeth Stahlmann is energetic and vivacious as the Nurse in the first part, and then she expands her range as the play progresses, much like Juliet. The two women carry the play in the second part, especially since another marvelous performance, Mercutio, played by William Sturdivant, has to exit right before intermission. Mercutio is loud and occasionally obscene, which may be a departure from the original role, but I think it works, especially because his lascivious behavior offers some much needed comedic relief. The decision to play Mercutio as overly mischievous takes away some of the real substance of the original character, but I do like the idea of taking a few chances with such a production, and for the most part, director Penny Metropulos makes the best of it. The beginning is even a better example of a chance that translates really well onto the stage. All of the actors creep out from behind the set and open up umbrellas. The narrative voice that opens up the play is provided by multiple characters, and the last few lines are actually delivered as a choir. Everyone in the play comes together right from the start, all unified under the protection of umbrellas, shielded from the bad things that are about to happen. The scene is visually and aurally menacing, which is the ideal way to start this tragedy. And even though the rest of the play does not always match the inspired beginning, this version of “Romeo and Juliet” is still adequate and worth seeing.

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