Children splashed and played in the Rotary Fountain, skaters on in-line skates grooved to indie rock and the tale of two star-crossed lovers played out underneath the wire canopy of the U.S. Pavilion on Thursday evening in Riverfront Park.
A couple hundred people of all ages, equipped with lawn chairs, blankets and snacks, gathered under the Pavilion for the opening night of the Spokane Shakespeare Society’s production of “Romeo and Juliet.” The production is the first show of this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park series, which was established just last year.
Before the show started, Director Jeff Phillips Christiansen was excited to see the company’s weeks of hard work come to fruition. Phillips Christiansen said his spin on the classic is a minimalist approach, using almost no set pieces, toned-down costumes and actors performing multiple roles.
Inspired by the commedia dell’arte style of early theater, Phillips Christiansen said the show uses masks and puppetry to portray the play’s peripheral characters. For example, the parents of both Romeo and Juliet are represented by large white masks with clothing hanging from the bottom, brought to life by the actors carrying the makeshift puppet.
“My job is done, now I get to sit back and enjoy,” Phillips Christiansen said. “Oh, and fiddle with the soundboard a little.”
The talent and hard work of Phillips Christiansen and his cast was evident from the opening scene. Audience members roared with delight as the show started with the first large clash between the Montagues and Capulets, swords clanging and echoing around the pavilion.
Audience members continued to engage with the performance, laughing alongside the playful nature of Romeo and his companions Benvolio and Mercutio, and swooning at the budding love between Juliet and her bashful Romeo.
Spokane residents Sonya Rose and her boyfriend, Gabe Ellzey, attended opening night with a couple of friends to celebrate Rose’s birthday. Ellzey said they found out about it on social media and thought it was a great way to celebrate while spending some time outdoors.
“We were looking around for events in Spokane and this came up,” Rose said. “It sounded like something fun to do, something a little different, so we thought we’d check it out.”
In the coming years, Phillips Christiansen said he hopes the company continues to grow and put on more productions.
After “Romeo and Juliet” comes to a close, the Spokane Shakespeare Society will prepare for its second production of the summer, the comedy “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet).” Written by Ann-Marie McDonald, the comedy is a re-envisioning of two Shakespearean classics, “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet.” Auditions will be held in late July, and more information can be found on the society’s website.
Through July 30, the Spokane Shakespeare Society’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” can be viewed in Riverfront Park at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays.
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