Smartly staged by Geoffrey Hitch on a marvelous multilevel ancient-Roman set by Joe Gardner, in magnificent Italian Renaissance costumes by Laura Simcox, and artfully illuminated by Todd Wren, the High Point, NC-based North Carolina Shakespeare Festival’s presentation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a fabulous feast for the eye and the ear. Director Geoffrey Hitch and a crackerjack cast will bring this epic family feud to full, glorious life for one more performance for Triangle audiences, at 8 p.m. Saturday in A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh.
Michael Zlabinger and Jennifer Lee Jellicorse give passionate performances as the play’s impetuous title characters, the only issue of the perpetually feuding House of Montague and House of Capulet, respectively. It is love at first sight when these two temperamental teenagers meet at a ball at the Capulet’s house, shortly before Juliet’s 14th birthday.
While Romeo and Juliet whisper sweet nothings to each other, Romeo’s bellicose friend Mercutio (Todd Scofield) and Juliet’s surly cousin Tybalt (Daniel Murray) stalk the streets of Verona like fighting cocks, looking for the slightest provocation to draw their blades and hack away at each other, despite the stern admonition of Prince Escalus (John Woodson), that any future breaches of the Veronese peace will be punished with summary execution or exile.
Jennifer Jellicorse and Michael Zlabinger are positively poetic and wonderfully expressive as they woo and wed in secret, and Daniel Murray duplicates Tybalt’s cocky chip-on-the-shoulder attitude with gusto. Todd Scofield lacks the panache to be a really great Mercutio, but he still does a fine job of impersonating the wisecracking courtier who is mortally wounded when Romeo interferes in his ill-advised duel with Tybalt.
Monica Bell and especially Graham Smith cut fine figures as Juliet’s domineering parents, Lady and Lord Capulet—indeed, Smith’s eruption when the secretly wed Juliet resists his command that she immediately wed Paris (Kirby Wahl) is a positively Versuvian—and Tim Austin and Jennifer Jellicorse’s mother, Mary, play Romeo’s patrician parents, Lord and Lady Montague, with grave dignity, but far less fireworks.
Kirby Wahl and John Woodson are good as Juliet’s rejected suitor Paris and Prince Escalus, respectively; and Allan Edwards makes an excellent impression as well-meaning Friar Laurence. But Lesley Hunt is wonderfully worldly as the aged but earthy Nurse who is Juliet’s friend and confidante. Lucius Houghton is likewise amusing as Peter, the befuddled elderly Capulet family servant whose illiteracy makes him the prey to many a cruel joke; Conrad Ricamora hits just the right tone as Romeo’s cousin and friend Benvolio, who serves as narrator for this tragic tale of star-crossed lovers; and Daniel Murray, who plays the slain Tybalt, gets a second life as the creepy Apothecary in Mantua who illegally fills Romeo’s request for a quick-acting poison.
The North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, which will present The Taming of the Shrew tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. and reprise Romeo and Juliet Saturday night at 8, provides Triangle audiences with a timely opportunity to sample professional performances of two early masterpieces from the prolific pen of the immortal Bard of Avon. Certainly, these professional performances deserve much larger crowds than the few hundred theatergoers who attended last night’s performance of Romeo and Juliet.
The North Carolina Shakespeare Festival presents Romeo and Juliet Saturday, Oct. 14, at 8 p.m. in A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $28 ($20 students with ID and seniors 65+). 919/834-4000. Group Sales: 336/841-2273, ext. 226. N.C. Shakespeare Festival: http://www.ncshakes.org/ and http://www.ncshakes.org/juliuscaesar.cfm [inactive 6/07] (Romeo and Juliet -- wrong title in url, but link goes to correct play). NCSF MainStage Study Guide: http://ncshakes.org/MSStudyGuides2006.pdf [inactive 6/07]. Shakespeare Resources (courtesy University of Virginia): http://etext.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. Romeo and Juliet (e-text courtesy UVa): http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaRJF.html (1623 First Folio Edition) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobRome.html (1866 Globe Edition).