Et tu, Juliet

Shakespeare lovers, cast take five ... plus two hours more

| August 16, 2006

Oh!--that elusive Romeo. Wherefore art thou, indeed. Fair Juliet is not alone in her search and in fact, come to think of it, she herself is among the missing.

The heavens were decidedly unkind to the Montagues and Capulets on a recent Tuesday night in east Boise--and I wondered: Is the Bard trying to send a message? Early into Act II of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival's production of Romeo and Juliet, right before things start getting really interesting (that would be about the time first blood is finally drawn between the warring families), the darkening skies unleashed a single bolt of lightning, followed immediately by a booming voice commanding Romeo and company to ... "Clear the stage immediately!"

And clear they did, never to return--except for a brief re-appearance by a sheepish Romeo--perhaps to beg the Bard's forgiveness for director Charles Fee's decision to set this cherished tale somewhere else besides its traditional 13th century Verona.

To be fair, half a play only gives half the vision, and in this case, calling the play off was no doubt a wise decision given the several-foot long piece of metal scaffolding stretching across the stage. Still ... one may spend an understandable amount of time contemplating why that scaffolding is there in the first place.

But I digress. First, a brief plot refresher: Romeo (Jeffrey C. Hawkins) of the house of Montague falls in love with Juliet (Sara M. Bruner) after spotting her at a masque ball, held most unfortunately at the house of his family's biggest rival--the Capulets, of which Juliet is the only daughter.

The young lovers later woo each other in the dark--Juliet from her balcony (or, more accurately, Bruner dangling from the scaffolding like a zoo monkey), and secretly marry. Then, as is the case with all Shakespeare tragedies, chaos ensues.

It's perhaps Shakespeare's most well-known and compelling story, and yet something here doesn't quite hit home. The scaffolding, a familiar modern-day construction site fixture, supports a fragment of a Renaissance wall, and that serves as the entire set. Costuming, by contrast, suggests the '20s, including military garb of perhaps the Fascist party. And the weapon of choice? Still the sword. Hmmm ... The diluted mix results in an often uncompelling and hazy picture.

What does work, though, is a cast of familiar ISF faces, notably Kathleen Pirkl Tague as Juliet's nurse, an encouraging mother figure who isn't afraid to let her hair down now and then. Pirkl Tague is equally at home dispensing parental advice to Juliet as she is teasing and taunting a lovestruck Romeo.

Lynn Robert Berg grabs deserved attention every moment he appears in the guise of Tybalt, the discontented and doomed Capulet nephew. Berg seethes barely concealed rage at every turn, but masterfully underplays the emotion, coming off as more frightening than might be expected. In his case, making Tybalt a "Black Shirt," complete with red armband, may just work.

Other notables: M.A. Taylor, providing some welcome comedic relief as Nurse's servant Peter; Scott Plate as Romeo's steadfast cousin Benvolio; and the always-reliable Tom Ford as Friar Laurence. As for the lovers themselves, both Hawkins and Bruner possess the chops to pull one satisfyingly into any story. With luck, the Bard will keep the heavens quiet for the rest of R and J's run and let audiences discover the truth for themselves.

Aug. 16, 19, 20, 24, 25, 31; Sept. 1, 2. Idaho Shakespeare Festival, 5645 Warm Springs Ave., Boise. More info/tickets: 336-9221

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