ROMEO AND JULIET, by William Shakespeare; the Folger Theatre Group production presented by the National Park Service; directed by Michael Tolaydo; music by William Penn; set design by John Hodges; costume design by Bary Allen Odom; lighting by Hugh Lester; choreography by Virginia Freeman; audio by Henry E. Wyles; fights staged by Michael Tolaydo.
At the Sylvan Theatre nightly except Sunday through Sept. 12.
Shakespeare under the stars is often more appealing as an idea than a reality. The idea is that people from all walks of life come together in the fresh air, for a nominal fee (or none), away from the stuffy formality of a theater, to enjoy the Bard's immortal words. The reality is that bugs, squalling babies and airplanes join together to try and beat Shakespeare and his performers to a pulp.
The National Park Service has very kindly provided us with free Shakespeare at the Sylvan Theatre for the next month, and transplanted the Folger Theatre Group's production of "Romeo and Juliet" to the grounds of the Washington Monument for the purpose. It is ungracious to look a gifr horse in the mouth, byt perhaps it's time to concede this public space to the jets from National Airport. They are bigger than we are, and even the most trained actor with the loudest microphone in the world seems a puny adversary to their thunder.
The first 10 minutes of "Romeo and Juliet" was interrupted three times by airplanes, and that was just the beginning. At another point Capulet exited the stage and a not-distant-enough car chose that moment to rev up, giving the impression that ancient Verona nad suddenly gone through a time warp and Juliet's father was leaping into a Mercury Coagar.
The production, directed by Michael Tolaydo in a particularly energetic interpretation, seems to have both suffered and prospered in its move from the Folger. The lovely costumes by Barry Allen Odom are displayed to wonderful advantage, with the full garments and elaborate headdresses creating a vivid and dramatic picture. The action scenes -- Tolaydo's fights are superbly choreographed -- look particularly convincing on the broad stage.
But away from the cozy confines of the Folger's home stage, Robert L. Burns' Romeo seems rather anemic; his Romeo has a jarringly contemporary feel. He does not command the stage, and his voice is not up to the demands of the great outdoors. Carolyn Hurlburt's Juliet also suffers from vocal problems; she sounds neither melodic nor powerful. Her interpretation of the heroine is totally girlish, and while she has moments of youthful sweetness, she fails to be changed much by the events in the play, and thus at moments of tragedy seems an unhappy teen rather than a heartbroken lover.
Scott Wentworth, who joined the original cast as Mercutio (Hurlburt is also new), is a worthy addition, well-spoken and thoroughly in command. Marion Lines' Lady Capulet is another refreshing spot of exellence, and Glynis Bell does well as the gabby nurse.
In the end, the experience is mixed. The production is competent, lively and pretty, but the environment somehow seems to trivialize the play; it becomes an academic rather than an emotional experience. Take a blanket or chairs, because the grounds gets damp and picnics are welcome.