The following article appeared in the
Greenfield Recorder on Tuesday, July 21, 1998.
Hampshire Shakespeares "Romeo" skillfully, successfully woos audience
by Don Stewart, Special to the Recorder
There is an historic challenge posed to any group attempting Shakespeare to make
it appear newly-minted and electrically charged, with words seemingly spoken for the first
time. Under the skilled direction of Timothy Holcomb, the Hampshire Shakespeare Company
production of the English-speaking worlds most famous romantic tragedy succeeds
wildly. The three hour evening is so expertly orchestrated that it would serve as an
enjoyable outing for all but the most severely comatose, and even the seriously
"I think Romeo and Juliet has it all," director Holcomb said,
following last Saturdays performance. "Its one of the best potboilers put
together. I do think its a tragedy in the true sense of the word. I think
youre praying for a happy ending."
Penned by the Stratford-on-Avon whiz around 1595, the work is most directly based upon
an airlessly dreary 3,000 word poem created by Arthur Brooke in 1562. Shakespeare scholars
often suggest that the romance represents an experiment by the playwright. He is
presenting 16th -century audiences with a contemporary issue, while also
capitalizing on the prevailing Elizabethan fad for matters Italian.
The dramatic test, which he abandons in subsequent works, is to allow youthful promise
to be crushed by mere chance, rather than character flaw. Film maker Alfred Hitchcock
forced destiny upon players when they trusted unknowing policemen. Here, the lovers
end is sealed when they depend upon the dangerous plotting, and poor timing, of a
well-intentioned Friar Lawrence (Stephen Eldredge). Beginning as a comedy, fully realized
in its first act, it is also a work regarding six deaths.
"I think the violence in the play is no more about Romeo and Juliet than teen-age
violence in our schools suggests that teens are the cause of our social problems,"
director Holcomb said. He explained that Shakespeare depicts a stratum of deathly intent
that rages through the families of Montague and Capulet. When Juliet (Jordana
Harper-Ewert), disagrees with her father (Walter Carroll), he screams, "You
green-sickness carrion! You baggage! You tallow-face!"
"The larger picture here is about how the society of the time is dealing with its
own violent undertones," Holcomb said. "The play has at least five allusions to
powder weapons, which is the new weapon on the horizon
It has to do with the
cavalier attitude towards the execution of violence."
Its often forgotten that Romeo (Ned Dunn) is not too many years beyond
Juliets age of 13. Not to be forgotten that this is densely-worded medieval
Shakespeare ("Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds, Towards Pheobus lodging;
Such a wagoner as Phaeton would
"). There is so much stage action, and nuance,
however, that the poetic, and the comedic, are well translated. At no time are you
watching wooden figures, stunned by an overload of high carbohydrate verbiage, simply
desperate to reach the end of their soliloquy.
Bill Stewart, in the role of Mercutio, is so elegantly over-the-top, that its
disastrous to see him knifed out of the action in Act III. Nevertheless, as he gasps and
prepares for the choir invisible, he maintains an all-important sense of humor while
describing his wound ("Tis not so deep as a well, nor as wide as a church door,
but tis enough, twill serve. As for me tomorrow and you will find me a grave
Stewarts comic poses and his repartee with both Benvolio (Jonathan Polgar) and
the nurse (Sarah Wilson) brought applause from the audience. It leaves you wishing that
Shakespeare had expanded the role for a ghostly Mercutio in a sequel, such as "Romeo
& Juliet III: The Revenge."
As cast, Dunn as Juliets future love, first expresses the eye-rolling cynicism
that befalls the jilted, "Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs," as
his father (Lon Bull) observes.
This will melt when he meets Juliet, and due to flawless casting, there is a decent
chemistry between Dunn and the fair-haired Harper-Ewert. As Juliet, she has an immediate
charm, and the two of them create a fun, Elizabethan couple.
You also wonder if, as written, Shakespeare provides more wit and awareness to Juliet.
Although Romeo sees a portent of his own death, ("My mind misgives some consequence
yet hanging in the stars"), she for sees their tragic fate ("How if, when I am
laid into the tomb, I wake before the time that Romeo come to redeem me?").
While editing the play, Holcomb chose to work with the First Folio, published in 1623.
For that reason a brief prologue, outlining the plot ("Two houses, both alike in
dignity"), and a rarely performed epilogue bracket the play. At the denouement, the
Prince (Laura Patnode), related to Mercutio and Paris, both now on the other side of the
lawn, realizes that he has failed to keep order, propelling the tragedy.
"That heaven finds means to kill you joys with love. An I for winking at your
" the Prince explains.
In Holcomb's opinion, the Princes role is the most neglected in the play, given
that his losses are also severe, and that his final words gives focus and balance to a
work that often blacks out upon Juliets death.
"Its absolutely critical that the play show at least a symbol of due
process, a restoration of understanding," Holcomb said.
Prithee, one caveat emerges for Look Park attendees. After sunset the stage lights
create an aeronautical circus of spinning and biting insects. Although bug spray is
provided, only the truly foolhardy will arrive in shorts and T-shirts.
"Romeo & Juliet" at the Lord Jeffery Inn, Amherst, July 21, 23, 26, 28,
and 30, and at Look Park, Northampton, July 24, 25, 31 and August 1. Curtain time is 7
p.m. Tickets are available at the door and at Atticus Albion Books in Amherst and Beyond
Words Bookshop in Northampton. General Admission $12; Seniors and Children to age 18, $6.
For information, call 548-8118.
Don Stewart is a free-lance writer based in Shelburne Falls.