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Romeo and Juliet

Romeo & Juliet
Eureka College Theatre Department
February 25 - 28
By Stan Strickler

Romeo and Juliet is perhaps the most iconic play about love and lovers ever written. Even people who know little about Shakespeare know about these doomed lovers. It has been filmed at least five times, turned into an opera several times, and spawned countless parodies and revisitations. The latest version of this classic play is being performed at Eureka College.

The story of the doomed lovers is very familiar. Romeo and Juliet come from two feuding families. They meet at a party given by the Capulets (Juliet’s family). They fall immediately in love, Romeo quickly forgetting his former love Rosalind and Juliet forsaking her parents’ choice for husband. But because their parents have such hatred for each other these young lovers are doomed from the beginning, and the play ends tragically with both of their deaths. Only then is peace brought to the town as the parents realize the consequences of their hatred.

Director Marty Lynch has chosen to set this play in modern times, for the program states that this play takes place in Verona, Illinois in 2014. That change in setting makes the play all the more relevant to today’s audience. In order to explain the feud between the two families, a political conflict is set up even as one enters the theater with signs urging us to vote Montegue and vote Capulet. Before the play begins and news program on the radio announces the progress of this political intrigue with various events happening around town. This concept makes the play all the more relevant to today since it is hard for a modern audience to identify with a family feud, but given the nature of current politics a feud to the death of two parties seems quite likely.

The play opens with a street fight between the two warring factions. It is loud and boisterous, but I wish it had been fraught with more violence hinting at the impending doom of the play. Playing keep away with a hat and some general yelling does not hint strongly at the tragedy to come. In fact several times in the play the crowd scenes were so busy that they distracted from the main action of the play. For example when Romeo and Juliet first meet at the party, there is so much action on the stage including some break dancing by Romeo that we hardly notice their meeting and falling immediately in love.

As Romeo, Coleman Payne did an adequate job, but his best scene occurred when he met with Friar Lawrence distraught over his banishment. It seemed that he didn’t connect emotionally with Juliet and that often used word “chemistry” seemed to be lacking. Similarly Hattie Standridge as Juliet is best in her scene where she rebels against her parents, refusing to marry Paris. Anna Dabrowski as the Nurse brings energy and humor to her role and shows true emotion when mourning the death of Juliet. Also quite good actors were Chris Tam and Cathy Sutliff as Lord and Lady Capulet. Her facial expressions and body language when talking to her disobedient daughter are really good. His anger is well expressed, although at times I wish it were more subdued.

The casting was not strictly gender based. Having a young woman play Friar Lawrence is certainly acceptable and Gretchen Scholossler does a nice job with it. But it does seem a bit jarring to have Krissy Franz playing Mercutio since he seems to be all sex talk and bawdiness. That may be a function of my age though since I guess women today are more openly sexual. The biggest problem I had with the play was the sword fight where Mercutio and Tybalt are slain. The fight was quite good, but it seemed like an anachronism since the setting is the current time. Perhaps a violent fist fight with a strangulation at the end would be more appropriate or perhaps taking a cue from BazLurman a gun battle.

The sets by Mary Wenzel were quite good with two opposite balconies on either side of the stage. The lighting by Sarah Ackermann was also quite good. I especially liked the darkened tableau at the end of the play. All in all, it was a credible production. So if you’ve missed seeing those star-crossed lovers by all means go see Eureka’s presentation of them.

Romeo & Juliet continues at Pritchard Theatre on the Eureka College Campus Saturday at 7:30 pm.  Admission is $10 for adults and $7 for students. For reservations, call 309 467-6363.

Posted February 28
, 2015