Romeo and Juliet
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Thomas Ouellette
Starring Michael Raver, Stella Heath, Wynn Harmon, Anne Herring
Orlando Shakespeare Festival, Orlando FL
I was going to start by talking about the middle school class giggling hysterically about the sex jokes in the first act, but the big event opening night was the back stage carnage between the sword fights. Lord Capulet (Johnny Lee Davenport) fell back stage and was carted off to the hospital for stitches forcing Jim Helsinger to robe up and finish the role script in hand. I believe Mr. Davenport will be back soon, but I heard the thud way up in back by the sound booth.
Besides this minor tragedy, this was noteworthy performance. If you don’t know this story of teenaged lust and bad advice from Friar Lawrence (Harmon) here’s the elevator speech version: Romeo’s hormones can smell an intact hymen at 40 paces, Juliet’s in heat and her cooperative Nurse (Hering) ignores a bloody family feud, and everything Nancy Regan told you about drugs comes true when Friar Lawrence becomes Juliet’s connection. Did I mention the sword fighting?
Director Ouellette plays loose and fast with the text, sometimes getting big laughs out of small lines, and sometimes creating awkward pacing when he mixes scenes together that stood apart in the original. There’s a loud Indie pop sound track from artists too current for me to ID, and plenty of loud clattery swordplay. As suicidal lovers go, the pair of Raver and Heath really did feel too young to make wise decision but you could see the lust. Slimy Friar Lawrence could run for state office while Ms Herring as the Nurse took a genuine delight in tweaking the nose of her employer. From what I saw of Mr. Davenport, he felt more imperial than the notional ruler of bloody Verona Price Ecalus, (Sam Little). The best supporting mooks include Brandon Roberts as the prissy Peter, servant to the Capulets, David Hardie as Tybalt, and Rudie Rushdie as Benvolio. And when Mr. Helsinger lashed into Juliette for disobeying a direct order under fire, well, I’ll say I’m glad I don’t work for him.
While there were some rough spots, the production pushes in a few new directions. The show opens with the bodies of the lovers on the tomb, and then flashes back to the “real opening”. The overlap scenes helped shorten the show a bit, but weren’t terribly elegant. There was a subtle Red / Blue key in the costumes and the show intentionally plays off structures that work best on the small screen. It’s good to try new things with such a well know piece as R&J, and these experiments left the cast plenty of room to do what makes this a perennial favorite – teens acting like teens and people killing each other for the most trivial of reasons: local politics.
For more information on Orlando Shakespeare Theater, visit