Set in a post-apocalyptic world, The Maryland Shakespeare Players’ Romeo and Juliet, expertly directed by Vera Belaia, was a fantastic voyage into both Shakespeare’s tale of forbidden love, and a display of great, unadulterated acting by a vibrant, young cast. In Belaia’s re-imagining, most of the population has died from a frightful disease, and the Montagues and Capulets are two warring clans. Staged in a three-quarter thrust with a minimalist set, this production had everything right, from Chris Wong and Cameron Smith’s superior use of lighting, to Anders Tighe’s fight choreography, to Ben Strobel and Terps Racing’s menacing looking stage daggers. Belaia’s production was that rare show with no average performances; from the blocking to the use of the stage to the emotional tones that needed to be played, Romeo and Juliet earned the standing ovation it received at night’s end.
Expertly bringing Belaia’s vision to stage was the dynamite cast, including, among others, Tommy Hegarty (Romeo), Megan Parlett (Juliet), Carli Fine (Juliet’s Nurse), Devin Thrasher (Friar Laurence), Jonathan Wiechecki (Chorus\Prince Escalus of Verona), and the unforgettable Becky Remsberg as loud-mouthed-friend-of-Romeo, Mercutio. Remsberg should be duly prosecuted for Grand Theft of Stage, she was so good.
Watching the show, I had a sense of wonder and remembrance of what the bite of that old pest, the acting bug felt like for me. I could see it in the players’ eyes. I could see the spirit of the stage in Benjamin Conway, who played Paris, Juliet’s betrothed; in Elias Arthur Kibby who played shoulder-pad-wearing Tybalt; in Christopher Walkup, who played the Apothecary with fantastic body language; and in Griffin Riddler who played Lord Capulet.
The show opened with a silent prologue, that showed how a plague wiped out the population of Verona (Italy? The U.S.?), and then introduced the audience to the warring Montagues and Capulets, and in short order, street fighting with daggers, a dance wherein some of the males played women, and eventually the titular Romeo and Juliet, who quickly fell in ill-fated love.
Several scenes stood out, including every scene Fine was in as Juliet’s nurse; Riddler’s scenes as Lord Capulet with his daughter, Juliet; Hegarty’s chrisp scene with Thrasher’s Friar Laurence late in the play; and Parlett’s late-play monologue as Juliet. Wiechecki was a vision of 1980s New Wave-dom with his blond A Flock of Seagulls hairdo and red, feathered technicoat. Using his tall, lean frame, he brought an assertive authority to Prince Escalus of Verona.
The cast was rounded out by the wonderful Barbara Vasilchenko (Balthasar), Lexi Brennan (Benvolio), Patrick Cochran (Lord Montague), the fine-as-wine Nina Parekh (Lady Capulet), and Lillianna Righter as Lady Montague. Assistant Director Sarah Trunk, no doubt helped this production nearly reach the pinnacle of perfection.
It’s a shame the show only runs for three days. For those theater-lovers reading this, please finish your Christmas shopping early and catch this mesmerizing production of one of Shakespeare’s finest tragedies.
Time: Three hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Romeo and Juliet plays through December 11, 2016, at The Maryland Shakespeare Players performing at the Cafritz Foundation Theater at the Clarice at the University of Maryland College Park – University of Maryland Stadium Drive, in College Park, MD. Tickets are free. For future events, check Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s calendar of events.