Review: ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

With all of the festivities surrounding the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, many theatres have taken it upon themselves to put forth lavish and bold new productions of the Bard’s work. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company seems to be of the mind that it is sometimes best to go back to basics. After all, Shakespeare was originally enjoyed outdoors.

Elana Michelle (Juliet) and Séamus Miller (Romeo). Photo by Jean Thompson.
Elana Michelle (Juliet) and Séamus Miller (Romeo). Photo by Jean Thompson.

Paying homage to the humble origin of story telling, Chesapeake Shakespeare have dropped everyone’s favorite star-crossed lovers among the ruins at Patapsco Female Institute Historical Park. In what has become a tradition for the company, the actors guide the audience in a “moveable” production through the crumbling facades and fields of their fair Verona.

With such well-known material, one would assume that very little could be done to make this material seem fresh. Directors Scott Alan Small and Katie Keddell prove everyone in the audience wrong on that front. They have created a dynamic, surprisingly humorous, and compelling production in which every relationship is fully realized (not just the one of the eponymous lovers).

That is not to say that our Romeo and Juliet are lacking in any way. On the contrary, they shine on their own and spark whenever they are together. Seamus Miller’s Romeo is incredibly complex, shifting from melancholy to passion to comical often in a heartbeat. He hits every point of his character’s arc with precision and profound emotion.

Elana Michelle is a breath of fresh air as his ladylove, Juliet. Breaking free from the delicate stereotype, she is a grounded and intelligent young lady who is not afraid to speak her mind. When these two lock eyes across the dance floor, the resulting flame is something to see.

Amidst their quest to find a happy end to their love story, the supporting players manage to find a way to make their mark. Kathryne Daniels as the bawdy and long-winded Nurse is the best friend you always need, ready to help you scheme or to slide in an inappropriate quip. She meets her match in the equally coarse Mercutio (an outstanding Vincent Eisenson), who is able to make every moment a comical one. Even the usually mild-mannered Benvolio (Matthew Ancarrow) finds his fire as he refuses to let Romeo sulk over his love life.

Left to Right: Séamus Miller (Romeo), Vince Eisenson (Mercutio), (curly mask), and Matthew Ancarrow (Benvolio)-bird mask). Photo by Lesley Malin.
Left to Right: Séamus Miller (Romeo), Vince Eisenson (Mercutio), (curly mask), and Matthew Ancarrow (Benvolio)-bird mask. Photo by Lesley Malin.

With a moveable production, every piece of the puzzle must be accounted for in order for it to be successful. Chesapeake Shakespeare manages to succeed in almost every department. Costumes by Kristina Lambdin are simple in execution, but exquisite in color and design. Fight choreography by James Jager does not necessarily match the scope of the setting with the most aggressive fight taking place in the most crowded area. Transitioning between settings for the most part are pretty smooth, but many awkward pauses could still be found between scenes that left me confused despite the best efforts of the ushers.

What makes this production especially exciting is that it is not just a play. This Romeo and Juliet is a total experience. It may not be the outdoor entertainment of Shakespeare’s time, but who expects it to be? It is the modern invention combined with the classic verse of Chesapeake Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that allow it to take on a new life. 

Running Time: 2 hours and 50 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

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Romeo and Juliet plays through June 19, 2016 at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performing at Patapsco Female Institute Historical Park –3655 Church Road, in Ellicott City, MD. For tickets, call 410-244-8570 or purchase them online.

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