“Romeo and Juliet” Spokane Civic Theatre, Friday, Feb. 21
“Romeo and Juliet” gets off to a wild start in this production, as the rival factions of Verona tangle in a frightening street melee.
Montagues tumble almost off the stage; Capulets dodge vicious knife-thrusts; swords are hissing through the air.
Director Maynard Villers stages this brawl as choreographed chaos. The actors performed it with such reckless abandon (fueled by opening night adrenalin), I was worried they would not survive intact to closing curtain, much less closing night.
One thing is for certain: They got our attention.
It was a promising start to this Shakespeare classic, and while this intensity could not be maintained through the entire 2-1/2-hour show, the show mainly lives up to its promise. The set is excellent, the costumes are outstanding, some of the supporting performances are first-rate and Juliet is perfect for the part. Balance this against some of the cast’s imperfect command of Shakespeare’s dialogue and a miscast Romeo, and you still end up with an effective and ultimately moving production.
Villers has chosen a traditional approach to the material. The costumes are Italian Renaissance, and the set is a half-timbered, two-story reproduction of a Shakespearean theater.
No Miami Beach; no MTV beat. Villers doesn’t use any tricks to make this story come alive; he uses the inherent violence of the material to shock us awake. Villers is an experienced fight director, and his sword fights are thrilling and seemingly out of control (“seemingly” being the operative word).
Villers also understands Shakespeare’s poetry and the heartbreaking emotion of the story. In general, his cast does a serviceable job of untangling the syntax and reading the lines for their underlying meaning.
Two actors stand out. Troy M. Burke, as Tybalt, and Jack Lippard, as Mercutio, made themselves the heart of this production due to their intensity and their facility with the language. Burke played Tybalt as a smoldering hothead, a powder keg ready to explode. His line-readings were crisp and direct. Lippard also has a great command of Shakespearean dialogue, and he also has a great talent for expressive movement and physical comedy. He prowls, he teases, he laughingly mocks Romeo’s puppy-love plight.
Unfortunately for us, both Tybalt and Mercutio bite the dust before intermission. They certainly weren’t wasted in these roles, but I found myself thinking that either one would have been better cast as Romeo.
Jon Jordan, who was cast as Romeo, seemed simply too inexperienced for the part. He lacked stage presence, he delivered his lines hurriedly and with inexact enunciation, and he had a tendency to overdo the poor-pitiful-me lovesick Romeo act.
Danni Guidry, on the other hand, made a wonderful Juliet. First, she looks the part. Gorgeously gowned by costume designers Dee Finan and Margaret Ayers, she was a radiant presence. No wonder Romeo falls in love with her. Second, Guidry, only 17, is a talented actress. She reads her lines intelligently, with excellent diction and understanding. She is also convincing in the more tragic scenes, overcome with love and grief and despair.
Kimberly J. Roberts provides a great deal of well-crafted comic relief as Juliet’s old nurse. And Norman Gano makes a convincing Friar Lawrence. Gano, who has a wonderful Shakespearean voice, at times seemed hesitant in his line-readings, but this is totally in character for the conflicted old friar.
, DataTimes MEMO: The Spokane Civic Theatre, 1020 N. Howard, presents “Romeo and Juliet” on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, and March 6-9 and 13-16. All shows are at 8 p.m. except Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults on Fridays and Saturdays, $10 on Thursdays and Sundays; $9 for seniors, and $7 for students. Call 325-2507 to reserve tickets.