An intimate setting, talented cast and story from The Bard is not such a terrible plague on the audience. The Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival offers theatergoers welcoming presentations of William Shakespeare’s best known plays, including Romeo and Juliet.
Established in 1989 as the Red Heel Theater, the festival underwent a name and purpose change in 1993. Now as the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, it is the only local theater group in which all productions are dedicated to Shakespeare and his works.
Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” tells the story of the “star-crossed lovers” whose short lived romance ends in their deaths and a truce between their feuding families. Romeo Montague (David Raphaely) falls easily in and out of love, often becoming obsessed with object of his affection.
Juliet Capulet (Melissa Dunphy) is the 13 year old beauty who has already been offered to Paris (Steve Kuhel).
When the two barely meet at a masked ball, the impetuous Romeo falls for Juliet and bloodshed abounds.
While record of this story can be dated to the 15th century, some elements must be credited directly to Shakespeare. Most noteworthy of Shakespeare’s additions to the story was his use of secondary characters, such as the Nurse (JJ Van Name) and Mercutio (Damon Bonetti).
The setting of the play was minimal, yet practical. Composed of just a stone floor, two sets of pillars, and a few sets of stone steps, the set was somewhat dull.
No large props were added throughout the production, so this practically bare room served as the outdoors, Juliet’s room and balcony, Friar Lawrence’s (Buck Shirner) cell, and the like. This set left much to the imagination.
The goal of the director Carmen Khan was to create a “visual metaphor.” Visually, the set could have had more to help the audience to get drawn into the performance.
A decision that cannot be defended by practicality is that of the costume design. The choice for costume design is interesting and confusing. The costumes are not of the period. The men in leading roles, as well as Lady Capulet (Christie Parker) and Lady Montague (Kelly Jennings) wore contemporary clothing. It is unclear what style of costume Juliet’s would fall under as she wore several pieces that could be attributed to different periods. One costume decision that was bothersome to me was the use of tie-dye. The people of Verona wore plain costumes that were very lightly tie-dyed.
Had the costumes been uniformly from the same period, not even the time in which the play is set, the actors would have transcended from actors into their characters fully. This would have unified the characters, instead of seeming like randomly placed actors.
Playing the role of Juliet is WCU’s own Melissa Dunphy. While this is her first time performing in the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, Dunphy is a veteran in the role. Her acting is on a personal level with her audience. When delivering her monologues, Dunphy is able to draw the audience, as if she is speaking directly to them. Dunphy is outstanding in the role, conveying with both her voice and body language all the emotions felt by Juliet as she rebels against her father and falls in love with her enemy.
Filling the role of Romeo, Raphaely’s lovesick performance comes across as goofy. But then again, so is the character of Romeo. His wide range of emotions helps Raphaely succeed in the lead role in that he properly showcases the internal battle Romeo is faced with.
Bonetti’s portrayal of Mercutio is quite good. His humor is able to play off of Raphaely’s longing and despair wonderfully. While “Romeo and Juliet” is one of Shakespeare’s best known tragedies, Bonetti brings humor to the forefront. Whether he be making lewd gestures to the Nurse or simply mocking other characters, Bonetti’s Mercutio gave more than enough comic relief to an otherwise harrowing play.
Set and costume aside, the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival’s production of Romeo and Juliet is a success. The talented cast cannot be muddled by the stage or costumes provided. After two hours of acting, the kiss and everything else was believable.
The Festival runs until May 18 and offers discounts to students. Don’t miss the opportunity to support one of your fellow students and take part in a great local, theater tradition.
Allison Hurwitz is a fourth-year student majoring in english, with a minor in film criticism. She can be reached at AH592893@wcupa.edu.