IN Review: Delaware Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
Hamlet tells us “The play is the thing,” but the truth is that many people, especially young people, have never experienced live theatre let alone Shakespeare. Delaware Shakespeare is on a mission to remedy that. For the fourth autumn they are taking Shakespeare to the people in an 18-engagement tour that crisscrosses the state. And I do mean engagement. For those of you lucky enough to have experienced Delaware Shakespeare’s Summer Festival, you will know that it is a great place to have a picnic and then lull yourself into a kind of iambic pentameter-induced trance as the players act out scenes in broad strokes to crowds in lawn chairs. The Community Tour is a chance at a more intimate experience. Think having tea with the Queen instead of seeing her wave to the crowds from a balcony. So even if you are one of the lucky ones who have seen a live Shakespeare performance, take this opportunity to be whisper-close to the action. It is a whole other experience with one goal—accessibility, both in location and the conveyance of the story. They are bringing Shakespeare to places such as libraries, correctional facilities, and community centers. Wherever you see it, you will be right there with a maximum of ten feet between you and the actors, some of whom break the fourth wall to interact with you as if you, too, are part of the scene. There is also nuance here both in terms of the actors’ movements—even the smallest gesture can be read—and in their voices, which do not have to boom to be heard.
I saw Romeo and Juliet earlier this year in Arden, Delaware. That production, by the Arden Shakespeare Gild, was a triumph of costuming (up to eight changes per character) and somewhat unique in the fact that they cast gifted teenagers to play the parts of the young lovers and their friends. Delaware Shakespeare, under the direction of Lindsay Smiling, took a different and equally wonderful approach to their production, making choices that felt INspired by (rather than limited by) the nomadic nature of the production. First and foremost, the troupe of players: they accomplished the entire play with only 8 actors, a multi-racial cast consisting of 4 men and 4 women. Each actor, save those playing the title roles, took on multiple characters who were easily distinguished by costume.
Each character had just one costume a piece, but those costumes had details that not only tied them directly to the character portrayed, but also gave clues to familial allegiance or occupation. Costume Designer Lauren Parrow used dreamy prints, metallics and shimmery sheers for garments that read almost as futuristic rather than representing a particular historical period. Costume accents like steampunk masks, a black feather capelet and Mercutio’s art-detailed shirt played well with the intimate setting. A few young boys in the audience fixated on and related to the contemporary sneakers. Because of the nature of some of the venues, swords were replaced by wooden claves (pairs of short thick dowels) in fighting scenes. Action sequences were heightened by the onstage percussion of these instruments as well as the offstage stylings of musician Emily Schuman on guitar and box drum.
The set, designed by Phillip Scarpone, was spare. Two beribboned wire cages and a platform ladder moved around the stage and suggested such elements as a bed, Juliet’s balcony, a church altar and a crypt table. Lighting is whatever is available at each venue which means that the audience is not in the dark; they are very much with the actors. Because of this, the actors can maneuver action to reengage audience members if their attention appears to drift.
The actors themselves are a dream team, and not just for their onstage presence. Before the show that I attended at Christina Cultural Center, they introduced themselves with first names and engaged with students from the afterschool program. They discussed Shakespeare but also students’ interests, costumes details and the logistics of playing multiple characters. By the time the play started, many of the young audience members felt as though they were watching a new friend perform. Onstage, this troupe carried the audience through laughter and tears. I had to remove my glasses and wipe my eyes at one point. Something about being that close to the action made each emotion feel more palpable. While playing down and even eliminating some of the bawdier scenes of the show in anticipation of young audiences, the actors, particularly Tai Verley in her role as the nurse, still managed to get laughs and sneak in a little innuendo. I especially appreciated Cameron DelGrosso’s (as Mercutio) rap-like delivery and the contemporary dance moves that Wilfredo Amill (as Romeo) used as touchpoints for younger audience members. Sol Madariaga plays Juliet with sensitivity and willfulness that rang true with me, as well as the teens that were in attendance. I did have to laugh at in inappropriate moment when Juliet was getting reamed out by her dad. The looks on the kids’ faces around the room. Oh, they knew that tone of voice all too well. You don’t have to be a kid to feel the heart in this production. The players will level it up for you as adults and ask you to consider names, labels, and judgements as those social constraints play out in your lives. Or you can choose to escape that kind of societal polarization for two hours or so, and just lose yourself in this retelling of an age old story. It’s a good one.
Here is a list of the remaining public dates in the tour. Many of them are free of charge. Check out Delaware Shakespeare website for more details.
October 25, 12:30 p.m. - Milton CHEER Activity Center, Milton
October 26, 6:30 p.m. - Sankofa Cultural Arts Center, Dover
October 28, 10 a.m., Easter Seals, New Castle
October 29, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. - Delaware State University, Dover
November 1, 2 p.m. - Milford Public Library, Milford
November 7, 5 p.m. - First State Community Action Agency, Georgetown
November 8, 6 p.m. - Latin American Community Center, Wilmington
November 9, 2 p.m. - Route 9 Library & Innovation Center, New Castle
November 13, 6 p.m. - Ezion-Mt Carmel United Methodist Church / Delaware Center for Homeless Veterans, Wilmington
November 14, 4 p.m. - Kingswood Community Center, Wilmington
November 15, 5:30 p.m. - Central YMCA, Wilmington
The Community Tour closes with two ticketed performances at the Siegel JCC, 101 Garden of Eden Rd, Wilmington, DE, on November 16, 8 p.m. and 17, 2 p.m.
Filed Under: Arts & Entertainment