CEDAR HILLS — Not two households, but two parties, both alike in dignity. So suggests Creekside Theatre Fest’s opening scene as Lord Montague ascends into the audience calling “VOTE BLUE FOR MONTAGUE.” From the other side appears Lord Capulet adorned in a contrary red tie asking for an endorsement to vote red. Set in modern days, this production of Romeo and Juliet has cell phones, a political rally, and even a nod to COVID. So, does it work?
With countless adaptations over several hundred years, Romeo and Juliet is one of William Shakespeare’s most popular plays. While some view this play as an overly dramatic tale of star-crossed lovers, the Bard did not merely write a sappy love story with Romeo and Juliet. The love story is simply the vehicle for the true message of caution against a binary society blinded by hate. Director M. Chase Grant captured this timeless and relevant message with the use of a modern setting adopting our present-day binary woes of red versus blue. And he did so splendidly.
In theatre, I tend to be weary of political themes being introduced into works in which they are not original. However, Grant executed this choice thoughtfully and neutrally. While Montagues wore blue, and Capulets wore red, Romeo and Juliet offered a fabulous allegory of the current political climate without taking a political stance. From the beginning scene of political campaign to the Capulet party becoming a rally for the “red” vote, this theme is profitably carried on throughout the play. I was pleased with most directorial choices including the modern-day setting. One might ask how there can be such miscommunication as exists in Romeo and Juliet in a modern-day setting where the characters have cell phones, and the production even mocks an incessant need to record and photograph all that happens. Fortunately, any naysaying qualms I imagined with the modern setting were triumphantly addressed in the play. The direction was my favorite aspect of the production, as Grant delivered a truly relevant and accessible adaptation using contemporary colloquies without detracting from the original work.
Like the direction, the acting this night was satisfying. The supporting cast was so potent that they almost overtook the limelight of the main characters (in a fabulous way). As messengers and voices of reason both Jeff Denison and Liz Golden shone as Friar Lawrence and the nurse, respectively. Wade Johnson delivered a unique but strong interpretation of Lord Capulet; in the beginning scenes, Johnson firmly committed to the cheesy politician character, and I had doubts would that the character would translate into the enraged father role when Juliet refuses to marry Paris. Fortunately, Johnson transitioned well giving a powerful patriarchal protest. Also, in supporting splendor, Mckell Peterson was captivating as Mercutio as she displayed the jesting energetic youth of the character while still portraying a compelling demise. The scene in which they make “worms’ meat” of Mercutio was the most gripping of the night leaving me with chills.
Anton Moss as Romeo and Bo Chester as Juliet both performed effectively. Each has a youthful exuberance and excitement that made their character’s peril all the more heartbreaking. As both Romeo and Juliet die, Moss and Chester are convincing as their characters realize their mistake and they concede to death. Adding to the momentum of Romeo and Juliet’s mortal departure, the scene then turns to chaos with lighting shades of red and blue as a backdrop to the tragedy, another poignant moment.
This production of Romeo and Juliet had few flaws. There were a small number of stumbled lines here and there that were quickly recovered. There was also a distracting creaking sound from the set floor that kept getting picked up on the free hanging mics. Additionally, with the free hanging mics, it was a bit annoying to have the actor’s step in and out of mic range as they worked their way around the stage and up through the audience. I appreciated the movement but a mid-sentence change from a soft voice to being amplified became a bit messy when there were more than one actor entering and exiting mic range.
My final technical complaint concerns the pre-show announcement that advised that the audience enable their air drop function on their cell phones for an enhanced viewing experience. I did so but did not receive anything via airdrop. My issue here was that I did not turn off my cell phone expecting some sort of notification and felt as though I should keep checking my phone to see any air drops that may come through in a timely manner. I am not sure if this feature was last minute ditched, unsuccessful on my phone, or an overall technical failure, but the language in Shakespeare is enough to absorb and any additional media is superfluous.
This was my first experience with Creekside Theatre Festival, and it will not be my last. I enjoyed the aesthetics of throwing a blanket on the lawn with a cool summer night’s breeze and watching a performance whose quality far exceeded my expectations. This directorial delight translates superbly for young audiences, with the modern themes and pops of contemporary language, while still maintaining the Shakespearean magnificence that a more sophisticated audience may seek. As a bonus, the audience leaves with the thought-provoking insight of how current binary politics may be affecting their own relationships. I say, go and see the show, “for never was there a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”