‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Aldersgate Church Community Theater by Julia L. Exline

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Aldersgate Church Community Theater presents William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet, modernized though use of costumes, props, and movement for a timeless effect. Heather Sanderson directs what is ACCT’s first Shakespearean production.

The set designed by Heather Sanderson and Stuart Travis shows painted stone and brick archways on the main stage, and another two sets placed on either side. One shows an organized room with a neat desk, potted plants, and an intricate cross displayed on the wall, and the other, a sinister apothecary, complete with scattered, rough artifacts and a fluttering fire. Lighting Designer Rachel Lau uses different colors to help set the tone, and cleverly projects a stained-glass window onto the wall of the set. Sound Designers Heather Sanderson (what doesn’t she do?) and Alan Wray use a wide variety of music — from playful festival chimes to a foreboding, thrumming bass. However, what sets this production of Romeo and Juliet apart from the rest is the use of costumes and props. Costume designer Jessica Moreno uses era-appropriate clothing such as flowy tunics and headdresses, but also mixes in modern pieces to emphasize the timeless quality of Shakespeare’s work. Sundresses, sneakers, jeans, and football t-shirts are paired with breeches and feathered caps for an overall interesting effect. The same is done with props, including the popular novel “Twilight”, ipods, and skateboards, among others.

Erik Harrison (Mercutio), Chorus members Lily Penn, Samantha White, Megan Wirtz, and Diana Kleiman. Photo by Lee T. Anderson Photography.

The plot of Romeo and Juliet is widely known, which is good, because Old English spoken from the quick mouths of actors can be quite difficult to follow. The play begins with a chaotic fight between several characters. As the majority of the cast is made up of young actors, it is not unlike watching a brawl unravel on a playground. While enthusiastic, the stage combat does need work, as the blocking showed signs of caution, planning, and hesitation. The anticipated scene where Romeo (Alex Wong) and Juliet (Emily Whitworth) finally meet at a party is a nice one, filled with dancing and laughter. Realizing that their families are mortal enemies, the couple is distraught (“my only love sprung from my only hate?”) but determined. Whitworth suitably plays Juliet as a typical young girl, dancing along to her ipod and anxiously binge-eating chocolate bars when nervous.

A handful of actors show off their talent as Romeo and Juliet’s relationship unfolds: Juliet’s worrisome Nurse, played by David Adler, gets many laughs from the audience, as well as her own put-upon servant, Sampson Peter (Eddie Perez), who has mastered the hilarious “kill-me-now” face. However, the most outstanding performance is that of Romeo’s friend Mercutio, played by Erik Harrison. Playful and daring, Harrison commands the stage while mimicking his peers and munching on candy. When he is killed (after a well-executed sword-fight) by Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (Joe Quinn) the plot is set into its fateful motion.

A tale of love, hate, loyalty, and resolve, Romeo and Juliet is a timeless tale that is always worth catching. While the majority of the acting is rough-around-the-edges, it is fun to watch young people who are interested in acting pursue the stage. The community theatre atmosphere is also very friendly and pleasant, and is an institution that I am happy to support and admire. For a supportive family environment with reasonably priced entertainment, Aldersgate Church Community Theater’s Romeo and Juliet is a good bet.

Running Time: Two hours and forty-five minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

Romeo and Juliet runs through March 18, 2012 at  Aldersgate Church Community Theater – 1301 Collingwood Road, in Alexandria, VA. Purchase tickets at the door, or online.