Romeo and Juliet, arguably William Shakespeare’s most famous work, is a hard play to successfully produce. It’s not an easy task to stage this play in a genuine and fresh way because of the challenges Shakespeare’s language presents. When done well, it can be transcendent; when not, it can flop.
Springfield-based theatre company Fools Haven knows this all too well. With a one-weekend run at the Wildish Theater, its adaptation of Shakespeare’s infamous work presented moments of both creative clarity and utter confusion.
The show struggled to strike a balance between this sense of clarity and confusion, therefore failing to make the play relevant and fresh. It did not deliver the punch that Shakespeare’s work has the potential to.
With a cast of both amateur and veteran actors (two former Oregon Shakespeare Festival members have roles in the show), this version of Romeo and Juliet also felt uneven and inconsistent in its acting.
It’s hard to tell whether this was a conscious choice or an unintentional misstep by director Judith “Sparky” Roberts, who’s been working in theatre for 40 years.
Local thespians Cloud Pemble and Nichole Trobaugh play Romeo and Juliet, though they overacted their roles through superfluous movement and shouting their monologues.
Moments like Romeo and Juliet’s marriage scene with a multimedia video backdrop did not combine well with the other visuals that stayed true to the play’s time period.
The show, while set in the Restoration-era like most Shakespearean adaptations, featured a multimedia video by University of Oregon graduate Jordyn Roach. It showed Pemble and Trobaugh performing a modern dance piece, set against a jarring, colorful backdrop. This was a stark contrast with the English folk-dancing going on around Romeo and Juliet when they first meet.
Side characters, like the Capulet’s servant Peter (played by Alastair Jaques), brought the most laughs while Juliet’s nurse, played by former OSF actor Maya Thomas, brought specificity and varied acting to a show where all characters sounded and looked the same. Mercutio, played by Jennifer Appleby, also brought some genuine humor to a show that felt dramatically heavy handed.
The combination of a three-fourths replica of London’s Globe Theater set and the actors’ colorful Renaissance garb made the play’s visual characteristics consistent and pleasant to watch, but not outstanding. The Globe replica did not add any visual splendor or grandeur to the show, but instead provided a simple backdrop for many scenes.
In addition, Roberts’ choice to have the stagehands be visible while changing sets between scenes felt awkward. With this commotion happening between almost every scene, the three-hour play felt tedious to watch. During these breaks, instrumental arrangements of songs like Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” played and made the transitions overtly cheesy.
Romeo and Juliet has the potential to be beautiful and nuanced, but this rendition felt like it was trying too hard to be a piece of “theatre.” It was reminiscent of a bunch of adults acting in a high school play.
Many audience members got up during the show and would come back minutes later, a sign that the show was not holding the audience’s full attention. Great theatre doesn’t care whether you have to go to the bathroom.
In some ways, Fools Haven could have done a better job if there had been an eye towards specificity and newness in the rehearsal process. Romeo and Juliet lacked a sense of unity in the direction and acting, raising the idea that maybe it would be best if the star-crossed lovers never met.