I always suffer a little committing to a classical show – especially Shakespeare. When they’re bad, it’s torture. When they’re good, it’s always still a bit painful for me. Although I have seen a few exceptional productions that have swept me off my feet, it’s not to be expected. But I’ve been curious about Faction of Fools for some time now, so I jumped at the opportunity to see and review their show A Commedia Romeo and Juliet at The Arts Barn.
It’s a sweet, cozy little venue with loads of charm within and surrounding the building that houses the theatre. It lent to a delightfully, intimate neighborhood feeling that draped the show in a sense that this was unfolding in your very own community! The show started off with a little trouble when, upon entering the stage, a curtain was knocked over. It’s an extremely physical show and these guys are professional entertainers so, before you could blink, it was incorporated and you were laughing and they were laughing and we were all having a good time. When this is the case, a quick recovery can be ornamental and because of the nature of the show, this did happen on more than one occasion. No biggie. But there were a few times the fourth wall was broken needlessly and I didn’t like it. (That is the single solitary quibble I have and I opted to get it out of the way straightaway).
In the program’s Director Notes, Matthew R. Wilson explains that “bringing out the humor that pervades the original text, we believe that we are complimenting the tragedy.‘ And his understanding of the material is faultless. The show was straightforward, undemanding, funny, sweet, comforting, and then Gwen Gastorf delivered the preeminent, “O Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo“ soliloquy, and I was thunderstruck. Suddenly all the bumbling fun was harnessed into the palpable passions of a young girl’s first true love. Her realization of the text was magnificent. And that shift, alone, in ambiance created a shiver.
Drew Kopas (Romeo) was fresh, fun, funny, and fervent. You could feel life and then love radiating from his Romeo. Shielded by and with loves invincibility, a youthful show of bravado among boys turns unexpectedly and horrifyingly into the accidental slaying of Mercutio (Paul Reisman), which gave rise to my and their panic and sets in motion the retaliation killing of Tybalt (Eva Wilhelm) by our Romeo and despite the fact that I know this story line, I feel dread for what was such a happy, fun, romantic story just moments ago. Mercutio’s and Tybalt’s death was labored. And sad. And awful to witness because their characters where so charming and captivating.
Toby Mulford (Nurse, Paris) is a true joy to watch. His character embodiment was beautiful – in the most amusing way. Among a capable and talented cast, he beamed. And it goes without saying that he shone his light as Assistant Director as well.
The contributions by the Artistic and Production Team – Scenic Designer Daniel Flint, Costume Designer Lynly Saunders, Sound Designer Thomas Sowers, Composer Jesse Terrill, and Aaron Cromie for his wonderful masks – were all spot-on. A job well… better than well done!
A Commedia Romeo and Juliet by Faction of Fools is, hands down, one of the best classical shows I’ve ever seen. It is powerful and distinguished. And I am not a Shakespeare aficionado – which is all the more validation that they’ve done something special here.
Running Time: 70 minutes, with no intermission.
A Commedia Romeo and Juliet plays on January 18, 19, 25, and 26, 2013 at The Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets call (301) 258-6394, or purchase them online. The 2 PM – January 26, 2013 performance will be sign interpreted.