By Richard Mayne
“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
The Worcester State Visual and Performing Arts Department production of Romeo and Juliet was not your grandmother’s version with gowns and tunics or castles and line dances. While the plot of Shakespeare’s original was followed beat for beat, director Adam Zahler made the decision to set the play in the modern day. It paid off quite nicely.
An interesting and innovative decision made was in the fight choreography. The opening scuffle between servants of the two great houses of Verona, Capulet and Montague, was not a scuffle at all. Instead it was a dance-off, reminiscent of breakdancing competitions in late 1970s and early 1980s New York City. These competitions were used to end feuds that otherwise would have ended in violence.
The duel between Mercutio, Romeo’s close friend, and Tybalt, a Capulet, looked more like a lightsaber duel found in Star Wars, with the two character’s respective weapons both glowing red. As a self-admitted fantasy nerd, it was very cool to watch.
The play ran from November 21 to 24, 2019, at the Fuller Theater at Worcester State University. If you don’t know the story of Shakespeare’s tragedy, here’s the gist: Romeo Montague meets Juliet Capulet, the two are instantly infatuated with one another, and they fall in love and live happily ever after.
My short synopsis of the plot (after the famous balcony scene where Romeo and Juliet confess their love) would be death, death, and—oh look—more death. Most people have some understanding of how Romeo and Juliet plays out.
The entire cast should be commended for their command of the source material. Comedic scenes in the beginning were funny, while the tragic scenes in the later part of the show were poignant. Shakespeare is not the easiest subject matter to pick up, but all of the actors did a more than adequate job with the archaic language. While on the subject of actors, let’s talk a little bit about the people who brought these eternal characters to life.
Brett St. Onge, Romeo, did a tremendous job in conveying the up and down, almost manic personality of the young, lovestruck Montague. St. Onge’s co-star Julia Duggan, who played Juliet, did a similar job embodying the young Capulet, seamlessly portraying her personality and tragic downfall. Most importantly, St. Onge and Duggan had a visible connection and chemistry with one another, something that is critical in a play like Romeo and Juliet. Autumn Thebodo was outstanding, her wit and charm in the role of Mercutio resonating with the crowd and making them laugh on more than one occasion. Erick Lindenberger and Bellalorraine Cary-Hicks were fantastic as Capulet and Lady Capulet, respectively. And finally, I personally found Vincent Pellegrino as Friar Laurence to be almost delightful. Overall, I would argue that there were memorable performances from the majority of the cast, including those I neglected to mention.
Romeo and Juliet was an achievement the Visual and Performing Arts Department, Director Adam Zahler, and the entire cast can be extremely proud. The performance I attended culminated with a standing ovation from the crowd. As a performer, I am not sure if there is a better reaction you can get.
Two thumbs up.