By Angela Dell
I went to Utah Valley University tonight with no expectations but to find joy in observing my friends performing in Romeo and Juliet. What I didn’t anticipate was to be blown away by how thoughtful and meaningful this production is. I’ve seen many productions of Romeo and Juliet. This one was far different than what I’ve seen before. The directors (Ardon Smith and Atreyu Brooks) worked so hard to make this production about the content of the words spoken, rather than the spectacle that usually goes hand in hand with Shakespeare, that the audience took a solid five seconds of sitting in the black-out at the end before beginning their exuberant applause. The work that the entire cast and crew put into this production is truly inspiring.
In this unique production, Romeo (Jordan Briggs) and Juliet (Lucas Stewart) are both played by men. So not only must the audience watch as they overcome their family’s hatred for each other, but the struggle to have their families accept their love for each other. Juliet’s family does not accept that their son is not attracted to women. They seem willfully ignorant of it. The Nurse (Angie Alley-Andrus) is Juliet’s love and support through all of this. The emotions surrounding this production feel real and close. It asks the audience for compassion and introspection.
The set (Tyler Fox) is minimalistic and used extremely well for the small space they were working in. Fox, also the Fight Choreographer, creates wonderful fight sequences that allow for the focus to be on the emotions driving the fighting. So much so that the audience feels a part of the violence. Sometimes when I go to a production that includes fighting, if the choreography is done poorly it takes me out of the play and I worry for the audience’s safety. Not in this production. Well done to Fox and the rest of the cast for practicing. The lighting design (Colin Skip Wilson) includes mostly reds, blues, and whites. During particularly violent parts the stage is bathed in red to denote anger and hatred. It then switches to white hot as someone is dying. There are a few effects thrown in including a white light with holes punched in it to denote starlight. Costumes (Sam Sanduk) are simple in color and fashion. They consist of whites and greys and blacks and are mostly fashion-forward items to establish a neutral time period. It is clever and I always appreciate when a costume designer can let the play speak for itself instead of pushing an agenda onto the audience using fashion. The music is performed and was organized by Jaxson Dayton. He starts the audience off by playing and singing a song. It was beautifully performed and sets a really gentle and compassionate tone before the famous first words are spoken. He’s a talented performer.
Briggs’ interpretation of Romeo is gentle and passionate. A classic Romeo, we are beguiled by his love and seeming innocence when he first sees Juliet, which shocks us when we see him become angry and violent. We, as the audience, are broken as we see this kind, fun-loving young man become hateful and savage in the face of death and sadness. Briggs plays both parts passionately. Stewart’s performance is truly inspiring. His own personality shines through his character and we see a much more self-deprecating and relatable Juliet. Shakespearean language is probably one of the toughest things when performing a Shakespearean play. It’s one thing to simply understand what is being said when it’s being delivered, and another thing to fully KNOW what is being said. Stewart KNOWS what he’s saying. He’s not just trying to mime to the audience what he needs them to understand, he delivers his lines in a way that allows the audience to follow effortlessly along with the emotions that are being conveyed. Alley-Andrus also has this talent. When Stewart and she are onstage, the audience knows exactly what their relationship is and finds it completely relatable. These are both truly talented actors. Benvolio’s (Nicolas Blake) bonhomie with Romeo establishes him as a lover, not a fighter. Blake handles this struggle well and we see this and commiserate with him. Allyson Mitchell’s Tybalt is fiery and contentious. One thing I really appreciated about her performance, specifically, is it’s not a self-satisfying contention. She doesn’t play Tybalt as a show-off like many productions usually portrays him as. She plays him as someone whose contention is everyone else’s problem and something she struggles to control. I really appreciated the thought that went into that. Mercutio (Paris Abigail Moore) is such a heartbreaking character in this production. You see her love for Romeo and her struggle to do for him what he asks but also to keep him safe and focused on his family. I love the attention Moore gives to the character’s choices. She makes good decisions as to when her character needs to posture and when you see her character’s vulnerability. As a logical person, Friar Lawrence (Nickolas E Hofheins) has always been my favorite character, and Hofheins reminds me why. He plays his character so gentle and loving that he in no way comes across as condescending, which can be tempting when dealing with an irrational Romeo. He imbues so much love and compassion into his lines, I was gladly reminded that he is my favorite part of the play. I also want to mention Chris Walters’ characterization of Lord Capulet. There are physical choices he makes that makes him easy to hate. He postures and is willfully ignorant. His signature readjusting of his tie shows us his need for constant control over his family. You grow to hate when he reaches for it because you know he’s doing it to establish his dominance and iron will over his family as well as his willful ignorance.
There were many performances tonight that were wonderful and, as a whole, the cast is an extraordinary ensemble. This production is only happening for one more night and seating is limited. I would get there a half hour early if you want to watch the final production. This marvelous cast and crew work so hard to breathe new life into this production of Romeo and Juliet and they do it with love and care. It’s worth the watch.
Theater Arts Guild Club and Grassroots Shakespeare Company present Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
UVU Ex Box Theater 800 W University Pkwy GT 627 Orem, UT 84057
December 14th-15th 8:00 PM
Romeo and Juliet Facebook Event