This effort, featuring appealing youngsters Jeremy
Wallace as Romeo and Jo D’Aloisio as Juliet, displays the considerable
joys and occasional shortcomings of community-theater Shakespeare.
Director Debbie Pearson has her work cut out for her with a large cast
that ranges in both age and skills.
The incandescent D’Aloisio, with her clean diction and
careful concentration, instinctively connects with the material. As her
ardent lover, Wallace may not have an ear for the subtleties of the
poetry, but his earnestness carries the day. Together they turn Romeo
and Juliet into types we see in high schools all the time. He’s a puppy
dog of a kid with a varsity letter and more ardor than intelligence who
falls for the glowing, graceful young woman, who—miracle of
miracles—reciprocates. In high school life, they live happily ever
after—at least until the prom. With a little bit of luck things turn
out better for them than for Shakespeare’s iconic teen lovers.
A cast standout is Katie Gibson as the nurse, whose voice
and demeanor make us wonder what Katharine Hepburn would have done with
the role if she had stepped off her pedestal. Gibson handles the
nurse’s nattering comedy with aplomb. There’s a real rapport between
her and D’Aloisio; their scenes together have an emotional trueness
rare for the community stage.
Adding narrative clarity, Bob Reid gives us an old
Capulet who’s much more than a cardboard cutout of the feud-weary
father. Although Matt Nilsen as Romeo’s friend Benvolio warms up the
more natural rhythms of the verse as the play proceeds, the age
difference between him and Wallace’s Romeo is alarming. Rangy Ryan
Maness endows Mercutio with an easy grin and a mischievous twinkle in
his eye, giving an enthusiastic rendering of the Queen Mab speech. By
the time of the climatic fight, which is handled well, Mercutio has
grown into a sympathetic and believable character. Collin Babcock is a
glowering Tybalt, whose very presence exudes the malice of a schoolyard
Without a doubt, the Warehouse Theater imposes
considerable limitations. In the tiny narrow space, a group of more
than three people becomes a crowd scene. The platform stage is not high
enough to provide good sight lines from much of the seating. From the
middle of the audience, it seems like scenes played close to the floor
are taking place in a pit.
Although it is famously proclaimed as “Two hours traffic on our stage” in the prologue, this nearly uncut version of Romeo and Juliet
is considerably longer. This allows for deeper character development,
and some interesting details emerge, such as the revelation of the
nurse’s first name (Angelica). Still, the show, which clocks in at more
than three hours, could do with some trimming.
As to be expected in a community production, there’s
great variation in the quality of the performances and the technical
acumen in this Romeo and Juliet. What doesn’t waver is the
Syracuse Shakespeare Festival’s commitment to the play, and the
company’s enthusiasm brings a sweetness to the entire endeavor.
This production runs through Jan. 18. See Times Table for information.