I am responding to this new version of Romeo and Juliet both as a lover of live theater and as an observer of the Boston urban scene. The Actors' Shakespeare Project, under the co-direction of Bobbie Steinbach and Allyn Burrows, has put together a production that fits our city and our time. The choice of venue - the recently renovated Strand Theatre in Dorchester's Upham's Corner neighborhood, was brilliantly conceived. Mayor Thomas Menino has proven to be a great supporter of the Boston arts community and of the arts as a force for healing in the city's neighborhoods. He is largely responsible for the forces that came together to fund the renovation of what he has called "Boston's Apollo Theater"!
It was not lost on me as I watched the action of Shakespeare's tragedy being played out on that stage that the gang warfare between the Montagues and the Capulets was a poignant example of art imitating life. Not too many months ago, in this same general area of Dorchester, the police intervened - as they so often are called to do - to stop violence being perpetuated between members of the Hendry Street gang and members of the Woodward Avenue gang.
|George Rizer for The Boston Globe|
This production is stunning in its originality and in its execution. Using a simple and elegant set designed by Janie E. Howland, the Co-Directors have blocked the action so that it spills over into the aisles and the upper reaches of the historic theater. Several dozen audience members sit upon the stage, and are included in the action of the play in sometimes whimsical ways.
The cast is universally impressive. The Elizabethan language never trips up any of the actors, and the addition of hip-hop street attitude and clothing moves the ethos of the play to 21st Century urban America.
Allow me to call out a few of the actors who stand out amid the very capable ensemble.
- Jason Bowen as Romeo delivers the range of emotion and action called for by Shakespeare - violence and tenderness fighting for domination within his spirit. The spark of passion ignited between him and the fair Juliet is believable and pitiable.
- Julie Ann Earls has created a Juliet whose occasional childish outbursts and tantrums tell the audience how much of a little girl still scampers under the more mature surface of this young star-crossed bride.
- The casting of the role of Nurse is always crucial in any production of this tragedy, for her comic relief keeps the action from descending into bathos. Paula Langton is a revelation in this iconic role, "milking" the role for all it is worth without resorting to scenery chewing.
- Veteran Boston area actor Ken Baltin as Capulet is at his best when alternately coldly disowning Juliet for her disobedience and then tenderly welcoming her back when she seems to have relented from her stubbornness.
- Lady Capulet is wonderfully played with imperious sangfroid by the regal Miranda Craigwell.
- Paige Clarke as Benvolia stands out as a presence on stage who will not be ignored. In each scene in which she appears, she holds the audience spellbound with her attitude and energy.
- Maurice Emmanuel Parent fairly exudes rage as Mercutio, as does Omar Robinson as Tybalt.
The Strand Theatre
co-directed by Bobbie Steinbach and Allyn Burrows
-Romeo & Juliet, I.5
Maurice Emmanuel Parent*
Julie Ann Earls
Susan Dibble (choreographer)
Kathleen Doyle*** (costume)
Arshan Gailus (sound)
Janie E. Howland*** (scenic)
Trevor Olds (violence)
Jen Rock (lighting)
Annie Thompson (vocal coach)
October 6: Directors Bobbie Steinbach and Allyn Burrows
October 13: Maurice Emmanuel Parent*
October 20: Paula Langton*
October 27: Jason Bowen*
November 3: Director Bobbie Steinbach
***Member of United Scenic Artists Local 829