Thanks to the fresh, new approach taken by PlayMakers Repertory Company guest director Davis McCallum, the current PRC production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is truly a timeless tragedy, set in a ruined Renaissance building in Verona, Italy, in Shakespeare's time — or was it yesterday? Moreover, the show is performed in an eye-catching array of elaborate costumes and hats that combine Renaissance clothing styles with modern accoutrements, such as baseball caps and motorcycle leathers.
McCallum and choreographer Casey Sams, fight choreographer Craig Turner, and vocal coach Bonnie Raphael do yeoman's work in freshening this familiar script and injecting some delightful surprises that enliven the action. Set designer Scott Bradley's magnificent multilevel set and costume designer Olivera Gajic's wondrous wardrobe for the crackerjack cast are truly terrific; but it is lighting designer Matt Richards who steals the show, with his moody atmospheric lighting — particularly his use of bare lightbulbs, dangling from above, to simulate a starry sky or the candle-lit tomb of the Capulets.
Director Davis McCallum has New York actor Matt Dickson and PRC actress Janie Brookshire play Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet — most expressively and with lots of teenaged angst — as impetuous youngsters who fall head over heels in love despite the epic blood-feud between their two families. PlayMakers mainstay Ray Dooley is terrific as Romeo’s sympathetic friend and confessor Friar Laurence, and Kathryn Hunter-Williams is highly amusing as Juliet's Nurse and co-conspirator in deceiving her unsuspecting parents about her secret romance with Romeo.
Justin Adams adds a charismatic characterization of Romeo's friend Mercutio, and David McClutchey is equally provocative as Juliet's kinsman the fiery Tybalt. (The unusually vigorous swordplay between Mercutio and Tybalt is one of the show's high points.) Also providing strong support in this must-see drama are Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Capulet, Joy Jones as Lady Capulet, Wesley Schultz as Benvolio, Marshall Spann as Juliet's erstwhile suitor the Countie Paris, David Adamson as Montague, and Prince T. Bowie as the increasingly exasperated Duke of Verona, who is furious that the Montagues and Capulets and their followers have turned his streets into battlegrounds.
Romeo and Juliet brilliantly overlaps two separate scenes in which Romeo and Friar Laurence and Juliet and her Nurse are discussing their forbidden romance. Director Davis McCallum also makes some of the familiar plot twists seem fresh and new. His only misstep is the overwrought staging of the discovery of Juliet's body in her bedroom after she takes the sleeping potion to feign death, but the rest of the evening pays more than sufficient dramatic dividends to amply reward PlayMakers Repertory Company patrons for that minor miscalculation.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Romeo and Juliet Tuesday-Saturday, Oct. 2-6 and 9-13, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 7 and 14, at 2 p.m. in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. $20-$32, except all tickets $10 for Tuesday Community Nights (general admission seating). 919/962-PLAY (7529) via the presenter's site. NOTE 1 : PlayMakers offers assisted-listening devices and wheelchair access at every show, and Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe PRC's 8 p.m. Oct. 9th All Access performance, which also features Braille playbills, large-print playbills, and a tactile tour (arranged in advance) for patrons with impaired vision. NOTE 2: There will be special Educational Matinees at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 3rd, 5th, and 9th, followed by group discussions between students and members of the PlayMakers cast and artistic staff. (For details, visit http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/studentmatinee.aspx. To make reservations, telephone PRC's interim director of education and outreach Jeff Meanza at 919/962-2491.) NOTE 3: There will be post-show discussions Oct. 3rd and 7th with the Romeo and Juliet dramaturg Adam Versenyi. NOTE 4: On Oct. 13th and 14th, there will be FREE interactive MINDPLAY psychoanalytic discussions, hosted by PRC and sponsored by the Lucy Daniels Foundation and the N.C. Psychoanalytic Society, during which a psychoanalyst will explore emotion, character, and relationships in the play. PlayMakers Repertory Company: http://www.playmakersrep.org/. Shakespeare Resources (courtesy the University of Virginia): http://etext.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. E-Text (courtesy UVa): http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaRJF.html2 (1623 First Folio Edition) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobRome.html (1866 Globe Edition).