Review: 'Romeo and Juliet' at Westport Country Playhouse

Tara Kennedy

  • OnStage Chief Connecticut Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle

Westport Country Playhouse closes its season with the classic Shakespeare romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet, directed by the illustrious Shakespeare director, Mark Lamos. Somehow, I made it through the decades without seeing a live production of this work, and am glad that this is my introduction to the Bard’s classic. This production is elegantly designed, filled with fantastic performances.  Mr. Lamos creates a production that will appeal to Shakespeare purists and newbies alike; it is true Shakespeare without being stodgy.

The title actors – James Cusati-Moyer as Romeo and Nicole Rodenburg as Juliet – are authentic as the young lovers, with Ms. Rodenburg edging out her Romeo on being a little more comfortable with the language. I enjoyed her quips during the balcony scenes and her uncertainty is palpable during her scene alone in the tomb before she drinks the “poison.”  For me, the standout performance goes to Triney Sandoval as Juliet’s father, Lord Capulet. Shakespeare’s language does not come easy to my ear, and he made it effortless for me. His mirthful – and at times outright ireful – performance shows the master at work. His outstanding performance is followed closely by Peter Francis James as Friar Laurence, who also demonstrates his prowess of Shakespeare; I thought he excelled as the Friar. Patrick Andrews is spirited and enjoyable as Mercutio; I thought this was an excellent role for him, as he showed some of these attributes when he played Mordred in Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Camelot last year. Felicity Jones Latta is lively and funny as Juliet’s Nurse. Unfortunately, I did have difficulty understanding her at times, especially during her monologue early in Act One, due to her fast-paced speech. Dave Register is an intimidating, bellicose Tybalt, a perfect physical contrast to Andrews’ spritely Mercutio.  Rounding out the principal cast were excellent performances by Alison Cimmet as Lady Capulet, Chris Bolan as Lord Montague, Barbara Hentschel as a heart-wrenching Lady Montague, Tyler Fauntleroy as Benvolio, and J. Kenneth Campbell as Escalus.  Truly, this show excels due to its talented, engaging performers – a genuine group effort.

My issues with the production were minor: I didn’t care for overly-anguished quartet at Juliet’s “death,” but perhaps I am showing my ignorance on how that scene is supposed to take place. Shakespeare is not my forté, so I defer to Mr. Lamos’ choice on that one. I also feel that Tybalt’s fatal wound to Mercutio did not appear lethal; it looked like the sword grazed him rather than stabbed him. Those fight scenes are complex and tightly choreographed for a reason, and perhaps in that moment someone was out of step.  Michael Rossmy’s other choreographed sword fights were wonderfully executed, especially the seemingly dangerous one between Romeo and Tybalt.

Michael Yeargan provides scenery that is simple refinement, using medieval imagery and muted tones, similar to worn frescoes seen in old Italian cities. I especially liked the silhouetted opening scenes, with backlit figures from behind a scrim. Fabian Fidel Aguilar’s richly-colored costumes are an excellent contrast to the subdued backdrops, and having the families represented by color – red for Capulet, blue for Montague- allowed the audience to keep score easily. Matthew Richards delicate lighting was effectively especially during quieter moments, such as the Capulet’s tomb and Friar Laurence’s cell.

While Romeo and Juliet may be advertised as a great love story, the tale that is brought forth in this production is the feuding families and its illogic; for reasons lost to history, these two clans do not get along and it takes the death of two of their children to see the unreasonableness of it all. Perhaps there is a lesson for us all in this: do we fight for the sake of fighting? Humans, after all, are the only species that kills for sport. Perhaps our grievances with one another should be approached with rational thought instead of emotionally-fueled spite. It just goes to show that despite the passing centuries, Shakespeare’s works still ring true in the 21st century. 

Photo: Carol Rosegg