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Ten Bucks Theatre gets star-cross’d with ‘Romeo and Juliet’

July 27, 2022
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Ten Bucks Theatre gets star-cross’d with ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (photo courtesy Ten Bucks Theatre)

BREWER – One of the region’s most beloved summer theatre traditions is once again gracing the great outdoors.

Ten Bucks Theatre is offering up their annual outdoor Shakespeare adventure. This year’s production is “Romeo and Juliet,” running through July 31 at Brewer’s Indian Trail Park before moving to Fort Knox in Prospect for performances Aug. 4-7. All shows start at 6 p.m. You can find out more at www.tenbuckstheatre.org or by checking them out on Facebook.

There’s nothing quite like sitting outside and letting the brilliance of the Bard wash over you. Ten Bucks Theatre has been giving area audiences that opportunity for years; why not take advantage of the opportunity to see one of his greatest works play out in the bright sunshine?

Now, you probably don’t need me to explain the plot of “Romeo and Juliet” to you – it’s one of the most well-known stories in the entire Western canon. In fact, why don’t I let Prince Escalus give you the heads up? He spells it all out in the Prologue, after all.

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

I mean, that’s pretty great, right? And it’s even better when you hear Ben Layman deliver it.

Two families in the city of Verona are in the midst of a generational feud. On one side, the Capulets, led by the wealthy Lord Capulet (Gibran Graham). On the other, the Montagues, whose patriarch is Lord Montague (Dave Barrett). These two clans are at odds, though their conflicts vary from the genteel to the violent.

In the midst of this, we have Romeo (Martin Guarnini), a lovestruck young man whose affections for a young woman named Rosalind have him reeling, even as his closest cohorts – his cousin Benvolio (Andrew Barrett) and his best friend Mercutio (Natalie Lisnet) – mock him for it.

Alas, that love will not last. When Romeo and his friends sneak into a grand ball at the home of the Capulets, he crosses paths with someone who inspires a far deeper love than he has ever felt before. Juliet (Katie Brayson) – Capulet’s daughter – is verging on marrying age; under the watchful eye of her Nurse (Deanna Rice), she is preparing for the next phase of her life. She even has a suitor in the noble Paris (David Olski).

But when Romeo and Juliet meet, the proverbial sparks do fly. And while Romeo’s presence causes some consternation – particularly with Capulet cousin Tybalt (Devin Daignault) – it is clear that what we have is love at first sight. Forbidden love, but love nonetheless.

The two strive to solidify their love, seeking counsel from those closest to them – friends and guardians and the like. They even connect with Friar Laurence (Ron Lisnet) in hopes of making their connection right in the eyes of God.

However, love cannot overcome the long-standing enmity between their families. Soon, the tragedies begin to pile up, leaving our two lovers with no other recourse but to take drastic action – action that will consummate in the most tragic events of them all.

There’s a reason that “Romeo and Juliet” remains one of the most resonant of Shakespeare’s works. Young love will always inspire the young, making this a wonderful gateway into the Bard. And the idea of soulmates being kept apart by the cruelties of fate? Elements of this story permeate our popular culture.

And yet … sometimes, you just want to get it straight from the source.

As always, the folks at Ten Bucks inject their unique brand of passion and energy into the proceedings. Director Julie Lisnet is a veteran hand at the wheel and that experience serves her well once again. Her choices are driven by the text, allowing the language to do the heavy lifting; she’s never been one to get bogged down with superfluous additions. This embracing of the words really allows the audience to experience the heft of this classic tale, resulting in a clean and unencumbered Shakespeare-ience. And really, isn’t that why we’re here?

Of course, when you’re laying such heavy emphasis on the words, you’re going to need an ensemble ready and willing to bring those words to life.

We’ll start with our titular star-cross’d duo. Martin Guarnini’s Romeo is self-assured, yet with the slightest whiff of insecurity. You know, the prototypical young man of a certain age. It’s a great fit for the character, particularly when we get to see personal growth happening alongside his growing love. As Juliet, Katie Brayson brims with sparkle-eyed naivete – even as her world crumbles around her, her spirit remains strong. One often forgets how young Juliet is, but Brayson injects her portrayal with such elan that we’re swept up into her hopefulness, even knowing what doom awaits. And the story of their connection – the initial scorching burn, the subsequent shyness, the mounting passion – is a joy to watch unfold.

Now, Shakespeare’s works are packed with fun and engaging secondary and tertiary characters – “R&J” is no exception. Natalie Lisnet packs a wallop as Mercutio, attacking the role with a Tex Avery-esque collection of gestures and voices; it’s all about embodying the chaos with that role, and Lisnet delivers. Gibran Graham is all imperious bluster as Capulet, smug and superior, while we get upright stiffness and flashes of madness from Jenn Guare as his lady. Ron Lisnet’s Friar Laurence offers us the voice of reason, staid and steadfast even as everything collapses. Andrew Barrett is a nimble, quippy Benvolio, while Devin Daignault is a stalking, malevolent presence. Deanna Rice blends sweetness and stuffiness with aplomb as the Nurse. And Ben Layman is a force of nature as the Prince, radiating regality every time he steps onto the stage; he seizes control of the space as adroitly as any real monarch.

Those are just some of the highlights. Players like David Olski and Dave Barrett have their moments, as do the other members of the ensemble: Joe Fisher, Garrett Fitzgerald, Robyn Henry, Caitlin Hession, Peter Natali and Micah Valliere. Every one of them contributes to this rendition of fair Verona, where they lay their scene.

As per usual, the production team does their best to navigate the myriad obstacles that come with performing outdoors. There’s a flexibility to the scenic and costume designs – by Asher Mason and Rebecca Wright, respectively – that doesn’t come at the expense of the form of the thing. Tough to pull off, but they make it work. Kudos also to the fight (Angela Bonacasa) and dance (Aimee Gerow) choreographers, each of whom contributed mightily to the depth of this world.

You probably know the story of “Romeo and Juliet.” But as with so many of Shakespeare’s works, the joy is in the telling. That joy is inherent to every Ten Bucks summer and this one is no exception. You’ll have some laughs and shed a tear or two, all in a beautiful outdoor setting.

“For never was a story of more woe/Than that of Juliet and her Romeo.” – Prince Escalus (V,iii)

Last modified on Wednesday, 27 July 2022 13:23

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