Aldersgate Church Community Theater Romeo and JulietBy Bob Ashby • Mar 8th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Aldersgate Church Community Theater
Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Alexandria, VA
Through March 18th
2:45 with one intermission
$15/$12 Students and Seniors
Reviewed March 2nd, 2012
“But soft, what light through yonder widow breaks?” In Aldersgate Church Community Theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet, it is the blue-white glow of an iPod screen, part of director Heather Sanderson’s scheme to make Shakespeare “accessible to today’s youth,” as the press packet proclaims. The show explores the implications of its apparent premise that Italian young people in the 16th century were just like 21st century American teenagers. Given that adolescence, as we know it today, is a considerably more recent phenomenon, this premise is culturally and historically questionable.
In keeping with the show’s premise, the cast mixes adults with teenage and younger actors of varying degrees of experience and ability. Among the teenage performers, Emily Whitworth, who already has worked in several local Shakespeare productions, put across persuasively the goofy teenager side of Juliet. She played the role with great energy as well as an appreciation for the music in Shakespeare’s lines. She sometimes allowed her energy to run away with her pacing, however, and she could afford to slow her delivery on occasion. Alex Wong is a gawkily attractive Romeo who needs greater discipline in his gestures.
The pair’s make-out scene in Friar Laurence’s room, in addition to being great fun, does a good job of painting their relationship as one of youthful enthusiasm, even if not of the deeper love that one can see in productions using older actors. Both ably portray the rapid mood swings and impulsiveness that can lead teenagers to the heights or depths of emotion.
The well-written, witty role of Mercutio can steal any production of R&J, and Erik Harrison’s Shakespeare-by-way-of-Oscar Wilde take on the character threatens to do so here. He has a particularly nice moment in the “Queen Mab” speech. Benvolio, in one of two bits of cross-gender casting in the show, is played by Rebecca Fischler, whose line delivery and body control are works in progress.
The younger children deserve credit for learning and projecting their lines clearly; they do a particularly nice job in the starting and ending choruses. They looked like they were having fun, and there is much educational value in being able to perform in a great play at a young age.
Among the adults, the standout was Colin O’Grady, who had a commanding presence and crisp line delivery as the Prince. Amanda Kirby’s Lady Capulet, played as all too focused on her fashions, and Elliot Bales, playing Friar Laurence as a frequently loud and exasperated, tough-love-dispensing mentor to Romeo and Juliet, also made solid contributions. David Adler, doing a funny drag turn, was the dottiest Nurse one can imagine. Unfortunately, Dell Pendergrast gave a fingernails-on-the-blackboard rendition of Lord Capulet, with constantly distracting vocal and physical mannerisms.
Perhaps the oddest, and least successful, choice Sanderson made was to conceive Paris – Juliet’s unsuccessful suitor – as a nervous, middle-aged nebbish in a hideous orange suit. Gary Cramer took one for the team by skillfully carrying out the concept, but this attempt at forcing additional humor by interpreting the character in this way deprived Paris of dignity and went counter to the way the play’s lines describe him.
That said, Sanderson is spot-on when she points to the humor inherent in the script. The play has a lot of quite funny moments, and this production brings them out better than most. Many classic elements of comedy are present: moonstruck, mercurial kids; bickering and interfering adults; coincidences and contrivances; witty repartee. It’s just that the playwright decides, through a plot device (Friar Laurence’s undelivered letter), to turn the story to death at the end. Comedy tomorrow, tragedy tonight.
The production is also inconsistent technically. As part of her strenuous effort to make R&J “timeless” (as though it weren’t already), Sanderson mixes clunky wooden swords and electronics among the props; contemporary and 17th century costumes; and pop pre-show music with Renaissance, classical, opera, and miscellaneous sounds during and between scenes. The execution of the sound design was marred by several abrupt starts and stops. This technical grab bag undermines any possibility of a sense of unity in the look and feel of the production.
The main stage set was simple: two square pillars (behind which actors occasionally lurked, and on one of which a Rembrandt print was hung at seemingly random intervals); two arches; and a central unit, used in the balcony scene, that resembled nothing so much as an oversized brick barbecue. The fight choreography was awkward and unconvincing, even to the point of transparently using the old sword under the arm trick when someone is supposed to be stabbed. The dual suicide at the end of the show was well blocked. There was effective use of entrances and exits from the house on several occasions, particularly when the chorus was involved.
R&J premiered in the 1590s, so it is now in its 6th century of production. There have been three versions of the show presented in the Washington area this year already. Doubtless, few people have ever complained that a story of thwarted teenage love was irrelevant, so I believe we can safely conclude that the show, on its own merits, will last and continue to attract audiences, all of whose members were young once.
“What’s in a name?” asks Juliet. A lot!
“Romeo” means ‘Pilgrim’ and he is exactly that; earnest to a fault. “Juliet”; ‘a down bearded youth’, which of course is exactly what she would have been in Shakespeare’s days when the girl parts were played by boys. “Mercutio”; temperamental with mood swings to suit his ‘mercurial’ nature. “Benvolio” is, of course, the ‘kindly’ friend. “Tybalt”, the one who first notices Romeo at the dance, is a Latin name meaning “he who sees.” The list goes on.
Describing his characters by their names was just one of the textual devices Shakespeare used to give his actors an indication of how they should be played. Which brings me to Miss Pike, the English teacher who introduced me to Romeo & Juliet when I was 14. She looked exactly like her name suggests, tall, thin as a rail, and as serious as a pikestaff. She seemed intent on making sure that we were never, ever to be interested in Shakespeare. It was only when I moved to California and acted in my first Shakespeare play – Romeo & Juliet – that I discovered why Shakespeare was, in the words of Ben Johnson, “not of an age, but for all time.”
I identify with his characters. They are people I know. The themes in his plays ring as true today as when he penned them over 400 years ago. It took me over a decade to discover that Shakespeare isn’t boring. Now, I make it a point of introducing every child I come into contact with to the joy that is Shakespeare. Take that Miss Pike! Or, as Hamlet would say, “sweet revenge!”
There are more youths in this production than adults. I think Shakespeare would have approved. After all, he wrote some of his most famous roles for ‘the little eyases’; the young boy players aged 11-14. I hope the Bard would have appreciated how we costumed the show. When his actors performed, they wore clothing from their time, mixed in with anything else they could get their hands on that they felt made up the essence of their characters; sometimes those items were new, sometimes old. We’ve done the same. Adding to this ‘timeless’ feel, we’ve also mingled modern day devices (IPod, Blackberry, Razor Scooter), with those of ages past (sword, ink pot, feather quill).
There are no stage directions in Shakespeare’s plays (well, just one in Winter’s Tale; “exit pursued by Bear.” His direction to the actors – in their blocking, their motivations – can all be found in the words. By analyzing the play’s text (using a variety of source material). I’ve attempted to replicate Shakespeare’s original intentions. Joining me on this journey of exploration has been a cast beyond compare; all working tirelessly to help unravel the mysteries of the text. Their insights have been invaluable and I cherish their trust and patience.
Our crew, made up of youth and ACCT friends (old and new), are the team behind the scenes that you might not see, but would certainly miss if they weren’t there. I know I would. All assembled by Jean and Terri; women who define the word ‘friendship.’ When asked last summer to co-produce the show they didn’t hesitate. Without them there would be no show today. Thank you ladies for joining me on this wonderful journey to Verona.
Photos by Lee Anderson Photography
- The Chorus: Diana Kleiman, Emily Lyon, Lily Penn, Natalie Turkevich, Morgan Vaughn, Samantha White
- Sampson Peter: Eddie Perez
- Gregory: Carson Meadows
- Abram: Natalie Turkevich
- Balthazar: Aubrey Blount
- Benvolio: Rebecca Fischler
- Tybalt: Joe Quinn
- Lord Capulet: Dell Pendergrast
- Lady Capulet: Amanda Kirby
- Lord Montague: Gary Kleiman
- Lady Montague: Tricia O’Neill-Politte
- Prince Escalus: Charles Dragonette/Colin O’Grady
- Romeo: Alex Wong
- County Paris: Gary Cramer
- Page: Jacques Worth
- Nurse: David Adler
- Juliet: Emily Whitworth
- Mercutio: Erik Harrison
- Rosaline: Megan Wirtz
- Friar Laurence: Elliott Bales
- Attendant: William Havranek
- Apothecary: Tricia O’Neill-Politte
- Friar John: Alan Bunner/William Havranek
- Guard 1: Erik Harrison
- Guard 2: Rebecca Fischler
- Guard 3: William Havranek
- Executive Producer: Kacie Greenwood
- Co-Producers: Terri Peasley and Jean Vita
- Director: Heather Sanderson
- Assistant Director: Eliza Lore
- Co-Stage Managers: Charles Dragonette and Marg Soroos
- Set Design: Heather Sanderson and Stuart Travis
- Sound Design: Heather Sanderson and Alan Wray
- Dance Choreography: Eric Harrison and Emily Whitworth
- Light Design: Rachel Lau
- Light Design Consultant: Michael Page
- Costume Design and Fabrication: Jessica Moreno
- Assisted by: Paula Barton
- Wardrobe: Barbara Helsing
- Construction: Bill Austin and Stuart Travis
- Assisted by: Lee Blount, Rock Vaughn
- Fight Choreography: Nafeesa Monroe
- Assisted by: Carson Meadows
- Painting: Rick Lore, Sarah Lore, John Peasley, Mike Vita
- Set Dressing: Diana Kleiman, Emily Lyon, Lily Penn, Natali Turkevich, Samantha White, Morgan Vaughan, Megan Wirtz
- Set Dressing Consultant: Lauren Tucker
- Properties: Susan Driscoll-Blount
- Assisted by: C.J. Mikowski, Jayn Rife
- Light Technician: Hannah Lau
- Sound Technician: Grace Denton
- Concessions: Bill and Lyndsay Austin
- Assisted by Girl Scout Troops 364 & 600
- Photography: Lee Anderson, Anderson Photography
- Box Office: Kacie Greenwood, Michelle Vaughan
- Publicity: Lori Rulapaugh
- Assisted by Candy Cole
- Signs and Banners: Bill Austin
- Opening Night Reception: Benny Robles and Ronnie Hardcastle
- Tech Dinner: Greg Husar, Sherwood Hall Gourmet
- Webmaster & Tickets: Lori Rulapaugh
- Videography: Morgan Peasley, Margie Woods
- Cast Board: Ellen Woods, Emily Woods
- Ushers: Girl Scout Troops 364 & 600
- General Assistance: Barbara Bonnet, Beth Morrissey
- Opening Night Coordinator: Vero Autophenne
- Cast Party: Beth Morrison
Disclaimer: Aldersgate Church Community Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7738.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.