GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Exactly the one jillionth production of “Romeo and Juliet” ever done in the world opened Saturday afternoon in Green Bay, not exactly as planned but with a Plan B at the ready.
Arcing over the centuries is the spark of William Shakespeare that the company of Play-by-Play Theatre grabs a hold of.
The players are mostly youthful, the era contemporary in music and look, the performance level crackling, the setting… ah, there’s the rub.
Plan A has the production outdoors with a raised stage and a few staging elements. Seating is on whatever audience members bring to 1417 Cedar St. in the Olde Main Street Arts District. The “Theatre in the Park” concept was already stretched by the non-park place. And then rain settled in Saturday for a long visit.
For the 2 p.m. performance, Plan B took the production indoors to Studio B of The ARTgarage across the street. Except for Juliet’s balcony, most everything else stayed behind. The setup is bare bones.
Logistics aside, the production thrives on the words and intricate situations of Shakespeare.
The cocky Romeo Montague is smitten by the love of his life, Rosalind. Well, one of the loves of his life. The streets of Verona are tough with wise-mouth punks of the Montague and Capulet clans challenging one other with weapons flashing. Combat is mostly bravado. A not-so-swift Capulet lacky accidently hands Romeo the written lineup to festivities among the Capulets. Romeo invites himself, with adventurous buddy Mercutio tagging along. Voila, Romeo sees Juliet Capulet, his instant LOVE OF HIS LIFE. Vice versa happens. “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks,” Romeo says beneath Juliet’s balcony, and they go to the Friar and get married. Soon, Mercutio and Tybalt Capulet are lipping off to one another in the street. Because Romeo gets in the way, Mercutio ends up dead at the hand of Tybalt, who ends of dead at the hand of Romeo. On goes the story, Shakespeare’s magical way with words lighting the way.
Trained in Shakespeare, director Carolyn Silverberg has a knack for igniting her casts to perform like cohesive companies. Here, again – one for all and all for Will – with vigor.
This and that:
+ Interpretive choices bypass traditional codes for the audience, notably in dress and gender. Clothing is modern, with not much signaling/distinguishing that “this is a person of high status and that person is a swell dresser.” Genders are switched in some cases, so the audience has to pay attention to words to know when some characters are male.
+ Music is contemporary – in pre-show and within – often with a beat. Most noticeable is the dance in the Capulet festivity. It comes off as a raucous collegiate party erupting in dance fun versus a formal ball. Some scenes are dressed aurally, as when Juliet is about to partake of the sleeping potion to an eerie sound.
+ Juliet’s balcony is structural metal scaffolding, wheeled in and out. Two benches painted white serve as such set pieces as a bed and the top of a crypt.
+ The players take control of the material. Bailee Harper and Haley Ebinal unleash power, singly or as a team as Romeo and Juliet. Their balcony scene ebbs and flows with color, spice and romance. Excellent. Teresa Aportela Sergott is full of comic/tragic nuance as the Nurse, particularly in a scene in which her aches, pains and breathlessness takes precedence over Juliet’s eager need for news. Brian Bailey packs explosiveness, especially when Lord Capulet is defied by Juliet. Rachel Ziolkowskisurly maneuvers the dilemmas of the well-meaning Friar. When Mercutio dies, Emily Holland unleashes a rolling monologue of surprise, agony, grave humor, anger, resolve and more “a plague on both your houses” anger. Four hundred some years after Mercutio’s first death comes an urge to weep for Mercutio.
+ The fight scenes generate excitement with big action. In-person physicality with waving blades catches attention.
+ The players wear wireless headsets. Early feedback Saturday afternoon was soon tempered, with the volume controlled or maybe turned off in the contained performance space.
+ In spoken pre-show director’s notes Saturday, Carolyn Silverberg noted Shakespeare likely wrote “Romeo and Juliet” when in “lockdown” for 14 months of bubonic plague. The comparison with the COVID-19 pandemic is another way Shakespeare keeps on giving.
+ This production proves again Green Bay has a Shakespeare company.
Creative: Playwright – William Shakespeare; director – Carolyn Silverberg; stage manager – Elizabeth Jolly; artistic director – Mary Ehlinger; assistant director – Maria Miller; assistant stage manager – Molly Sergott; costumes – Debra Jolly; sound op – Scott Wildeman; fight choreography – Greg Pragel; dance choreography – Molly Mahler Lucareli
Romeo – Bailee Harper
Benvolio – Grace Sergott
Lord Montague – Michael J. Laskowski
Abraham – Andrew Derdena
Balthasar – Emma Foley
Juliet – Haley Ebinal
Nurse – Teresa Aportela Sergott
Lord Capulet – Brian Bailey
Lady Capulet – Hanna Lindsay Jorgensen
Tybalt – Collan Simmons
Sampson – Joey Umentum
Gregory/Apothecary – Sanibel Harper
Servingman/Friar John – Nick Kramer
Friar Lawrence – Rachel Ziolkowski
Mercutio – Emily Holland
Paris – Wil Mannion
Prince Escalus – Lucas Brunette
Running time: Two hours, five minutes (no intermission)
Remaining performances: 2 and 6:30 p.m. June 27
THE VENUE: Studio B of The ARTgarage at 1429 Main St. in Green Bay is one of the converted sections of a canning factory. The performance space is set amidst concrete pillars, bricks, open ceiling with exposed wood and utilities and a polished concrete floor. The spartan setup is in keeping with the William Shakespeare phrase, “All the world’s a stage.” For “Romeo and Juliet,” sound baffles are hung in a central square in the ceiling, dressed in a string of lights. Sets of large white walls separate the audience from “backstage,” though not entirely. A thick fabric curtain covers a window at the rear of the performance area. The look of the space befits the bare-wall visual character of the production.