About a half-century ago, New York City’s Public Theater created “Shakespeare in the Park,” which inspired outdoor performances across the U.S., including those by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This summer CSC is presenting Romeo and Juliet in a portable production that will travel to 16 locales. On July 19, I watched a free performance at downtown’s Lytle Park attended by approximately 125 people. (Full schedule: www.cincyshakes.com.)
The presentation is a concise rendition of the tragic love story, using seven actors, each playing at least two roles with a lot of quick costume changes. The stage is six movable wall panels festooned with posters extolling the feuding Capulets and the Montagues. A bench is the only other piece of scenery, serving as a bed, a bier and more.
The actors’ voices are supported by an erratic portable sound system. In almost every scene the evening I watched, at least one actor’s wireless microphone failed, constantly distracting and often rendering his or her lines inaudible. It’s the production’s only serious shortcoming, although it's one that needs to be fixed.
CSC veteran Sara Clark plays Juliet as an adolescent, unfamiliar with the powerful emotions that buffet her. Newcomer Jeremy Dana Larson is frantic, youthful Romeo, convincing in his erratic behavior. (Clark and Larson are pictured.) Josh Stamoolis is Juliet’s furious, domineering father, while Lauren Shively plays her cold mother, more concerned with her chic wardrobe than her daughter’s welfare until it’s too late.
Quick changes don't blur the distinct characters. Jolin Polasek gives a striking performance as the manic Mercutio, as well as Romeo’s harsh mother. Billy Chace is the well-meaning but inept Friar Laurence, in addition to Tybalt, the hot-headed Montague retainer who provokes the first fight. Travis McElroy plays three roles: Juliet’s unwelcome, empty-headed suitor Paris; Juliet’s ditzy nurse; and Verona’s noble prince.
A production like this requires sound fundamentals and not a lot of fussiness around details. That’s what CSC delivers in “two hours’ traffic.”
ROMEO AND JULIET is presented as a free touring production by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company at various locations throughout the Tristate through Aug. 28. Get performance dates/times and locations here.