Saturday, July 18, 2015

Grrls rule!

Revolutionary R & J at the Blackrock
by Christopher Key

Director Bjorn A. Whitney has given audiences at the Skagit River Shakespeare Festival a real treat with his production of Romeo and Juliet.  He has neatly turned the tables on Elizabethan tradition and cast most of the men’s roles with women.  It works brilliantly and provides some fresh perspectives on those roles.

Shakespeare Northwest, the parent organization of the festival, has been around since the turn of the century.  Like most small theatre festivals, it has had its share of struggles over the years.  Unlike most small festivals, it appears to be in robust health 15 years later.  It has seemingly overcome the challenges presented by its remote location and the charms of the Blackrock Amphitheatre have a lot to do with that.  The Blackrock is located in Rexville and don’t bother trying to find that on Mapquest.

It’s very much worth the drive, however, to see Shakespeare “outside and under the stars.”  That’s been the guiding principle of the festival since the beginning and it has survived vampiric mosquitos and noisy overflights from Whidbey NAS.

Photo credit - Mary Mae Hardt

Since this R & J is all about the women, it’s most fitting that Carolyn Travis delivers a powerhouse performance as Capulet that by itself is worth the price of admission.  Travis has been with the festival since its inception and there’s an obvious reason for that.  When Travis gets on a roll, she’s playing in a league of her own.

Photo credit - Mary Mae Hardt

Sage Hoag is an endearing Romeo who completely captures the goofiness of a teenager in love.  When he Juliet start sucking face, the passion is believable.  Cassandra Leon has a lovely stage presence as Juliet, but her performance could be greatly improved by slowing down her delivery.  That may occur naturally once the opening night jitters wear off.

Photo credit - Mary Mae Hardt

Two of those women in traditionally male roles are Jaime Mastromonica and Sarah Mickelson.  They pay Mercutio and Tybalt, respectively, and both give ballsier performances than most of the men I have seen in those roles. 

Much of the comic relief in the show falls upon Juliet’s Nurse.  Beth Greatorex plays the role with boozy bluster.  Friar Laurence also gets a chuckle or two, but Trey Hatch’s performance is most notable for his portrayal of tough love.

Elizabeth Lundquist, Jessie Spangler, Lydia Randall, Chauncey Drummond, April Jane M. Hoag and Glynna Goff all play roles traditionally cast as men.  They do more for women’s liberation than half-a-dozen Steinems.

Watch for Claire Hardt Andrews in the minor role of Petra.  This 14-year-old has an astonishingly mature stage presence that bodes well for larger roles in the very near future.

There are a few men swimming uphill in this river of estrogen.  James Brown is appropriately authoritative as Prince Escalus and also provides the terrific fight choreography.  Tyler Aldridge is thoroughly creepy as Paris and Devin Breuer plays the Apothecary with a weirdness that indicates he may have been sampling his own wares.

Whitney has set the play in a late-19th-century western mining town.  It’s not a bad concept, but I’d like to have seen it fleshed out with more than just costumes and accents.  One nifty bit of stagecraft is the sign proclaiming Verona’s population.  It goes down as the body count goes up.

Romeo and Juliet plays in repertory with Two Noble Kinsmen at the aforementioned Blackrock Amphitheatre.  Fire up the GPS and get there.  Tickets are available at the Shakespeare Northwest website or at the door and, yes, they take most major credit cards.  The season runs through August 15 and the site will provide specific dates and times.

For true Bardaholics, there is the Ironman marathon on August 1 when you can take in both shows, plus the SNW touring show and survivors get a T-shirt.

You go, grrls!

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