The Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival opens its season with Romeo and Juliet, the classic story of the Capulets and the Montagues. The Festival’s production, directed by Tazewell Tompson, is truly a fairy tale lacking the happy ending.
Kevin O’Donnell’s Romeo is overwhelmingly passionate. Fully in love with Rosalind, and then just as quickly over her, it is not surprising that Juliet initially questions her lover’s sincerity. But Romeo does nothing half-heartedly. You almost have to admire his naive zeal. He loves, fights, and dies boldly, never pausing to examine the consequences of his actions.
As they fall in love, Juliet (Suli Holum) adopts some of Romeo’s brash ways. At first she struggles to behave like the proper little girl she has been raised to be, carefully refusing Romeo’s advances. Later she balances between a fervent young woman who will do anything for her one true love, and a bratty pubescent princess who quickly threatens suicide when she can’t have her own way.
J.J. Van Name, who plays the Nurse, highlights the happy-go-lucky nature of her character. Willing to do anything for her young mistress, the Nurse never stops to realize the price of Juliet’s profound devotion to Romeo. Ian Merrill Peakes, as Mercutio, is the perfect complement to Romeo. Impertinently jovial, Peakes’ portrayal of Mercutio magnifies the teenage-boy-humor of Shakespeare’s text. However, the absence of blood at Mercutio’s death detracts from the realism necessary in this scene, allowing the audience to wonder if, perhaps, this was not just another one of Mercutio’s jests.
Donald Eastman’s unadorned scenic design resembles a castle barnyard, complete with real leaves. In contrast with the earthy wooden set, a colorful marble floor brings realism to the indoor scenes as well. Jerold R. Forsyth’s naturalistic lighting, Vickie Esposito-McLaughlin’s period-style costumes, and Fabian Obispo’s original music complete this storybook picture.
Romeo & Juliet runs Oct. 13-Nov.19. at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, 2111 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, Pa. 19103. Tickets are $15-22. 215-496-9722.