By Rachelle Hughes
Iron County Today
As a theatre reviewer, I am often surprised by my reaction to a play. I often come to the theatre with preconceived notions. Often, I find an experience completely different than expected. This was especially true of two plays at the Utah Shakespeare Festival this season.
“Romeo and Juliet” is one of my least favorite plays in Shakespeare’s canon. So, I went to the Festival’s production dragging my feet, worried my personal feelings about this play would cloud my judgement. On the other hand, I was so excited for the adventure of “Treasure Island.”
Neither play was what I expected.
Director J.R. Sullivan directed a “Romeo and Juliet” that is by far the best version I have ever seen. Instead of an angsty love affair, Sullivan and the cast brought us a spirited and at times joyful love story that, of course, ends in tragedy. But long before the deaths in the tomb that ended three young lover’s lives there is a love story worth rooting for. Betsy Mugavero as Juliet was brilliant as a youthful and slightly rebellious teen but never an obsessive, sighing lovesick girl. It was refreshing. Shane Kenyon’s Romeo complimented his Juliet by being passionate, but not mopey and forlorn. He portrayed an impetuous and loyal Romeo. Their portrayals of this legendary literary couple changed my mind about this play.
The supporting cast was also excellently cast. Romeo’s entourage of friends and family members are an energetic group of “lusty gentleman.” Mercutio played by Jeb Burris is quick to temper, quick to laughter and quick to mischief. He owned his time on the stage and his death was a severe disappointment, especially since it meant we wouldn’t get to hear any more of his rebel rousing story telling once he was gone.
Leslie Brott also gives a fun performance of a garrulous and fiercely protective nurse to Juliet. Jonathan Gillard Daly made an impressive priest who always followed his heart. He also had the best set in the show with an elaborate store of herbs and religious artifacts at his residence.
In the end, Romeo and Juliet is still a story of two very young lovers and newlyweds who choose to end their life for loss of their love. However, this version of Romeo and Juliet offers more than angst and tragedy and revenge, it offers laughter and joy and forgiveness. I loved having my mind changed so drastically.
Treasure Island started out exciting, Pirates and cast members were roaming the aisles and entertaining the audience with pirate shanties. There is a palpable energy from the beginning as the larger than life scenery sets the stage for an inn that is a perfect temporary home to seafaring folk and permanent home to Jim Hawkins and his mother, the owner of the inn. In fact, the set is one of the most adventurous parts of the play. It changes from inn, to an aristocratic home, to ship to treasure island in a moment. It is a dizzying choreography of set changes. Unfortunately, as the play progresses, the clever set designed by Jason Lajka is the most interesting part of this adventure.
Yes, there are pirates and some swashbuckling fights and threats of danger. But there was more swordplay in some of the Shakespearean plays this season and the pirates seem to do more talking and walking through the set changes than adventuring and pirating. The dialogue or script itself may be to blame for some of the blasé moments in Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s book. Some moments, especially those on the ship, just seemed to drag.
Fortunately, some of the cast were the play’s saving grace. Jim (played by Sceri Sioux Ivers) was an ever-moving force of energy. Ivers never let Jim’s unconquerable youthful vigor flag for a moment. She certainly did her best to raise the energy of the show. Geoffrey Kent also brought a unique dash of character to each of his three roles he played in the show as the butler Redruth, the airheaded pirate Johnny and the pirate Billy Bones. Thank heavens for Andrew May who provided much needed comic relief with his sarcastic and silly Squire.
“Treasure Island” had its moments. The set is fantastic, the musical moments were entertaining and some of the actors gave a performance worthy of the play’s namesake but somehow the adventure just fell short for me. When it comes to these two plays, for which I had such different expectations, it was “Romeo and Juliet” that had me sitting on the edge of my seat.
To find out more about tickets to the Utah Shakespeare Festival visit bard.org or call 800-PLAYTIX.