Eugene Weekly : Theater : 8.9.07

Star-Crossed Tale Under the Stars
Shakespeare in the Park presents Romeo and Juliet

Toting ice chests, chairs, blankets and picnic baskets packed with sodas, wine and victuals, a respectable crowd of adults, children and their dogs settled in on the grass at Amazon Park for Free Shakespeare in the Park’s open air production of Romeo & Juliet.

Romeo (Melanie Moser) woos Juliet (Wispra Smith)

One of William Shakespeare’s most popular plays, the timeless tale of star-crossed lovers begins when the Capulet family hosts a masquerade ball to introduce their daughter Juliet (Wispra Smith) to potential suitors, although they’ve already picked out a young man named Paris (Tyler Walls). Romeo (Melanie Moser) — a Montague and sworn enemy of the Capulet family — and his friends sneak into the party. Romeo is dazzled by Juliet’s beauty, and the couple secretly weds. But the family feud continues when Romeo’s impetuous pal Mercutio (Derek J. Lewis) goads Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (Ramsey Tainton) into a swordfight. To avenge Mercutio’s death, Romeo in turn slays Tybalt and is exiled from Verona but steals back to town to spend one night with his new bride. The next morning, the Capulets arrange for Juliet to wed Paris. A distraught Juliet rushes to Friar Lawrence (Matt von Hippel), who gives her a potion that causes a deathlike coma. The plan is to make Paris think she’s dead, and when she awakens, the friar will notify Romeo, and the two can run away together. Alas, cruel fate steps in. Unaware of Juliet’s plan, Romeo hears of her “death” and rushes to her crypt. Grief-stricken, Romeo drinks real poison. When Juliet awakens from her sleep to find her lover dead at her side, she also takes her own life.

Although a portion of the action takes place onstage, the all-volunteer cast of local adults and youth incorporates the park’s lush natural setting as a backdrop. Players enter and exit from all sides, as well as perform behind, beside and among the audience, which prompted one little boy with a toy sword to follow behind the players hoping to engage them in some lively swordplay.

Leading the 20-member cast in the principal roles of Romeo and Juliet are Moser and Smith, respectively. Although Moser is a female playing a male role, she is suitably convincing as the youthful rough-and-tumble yet lovestruck Romeo, and Smith possesses the idealistic and innocent qualities that embodied Shakespeare’s adolescent Juliet.

In tragedies, the characters that seem to stand out the most are often the ones that provide the most comic relief. Standouts included Lewis as Romeo’s boisterous sidekick Mercutio; Adam Johnson (Lord Capulet), who in Act II becomes delightfully giddy with glorious wedding plans; and L. Fisher, who is immensely comical and animated in his dual roles as loopy servants Sampson and Peter.

The only drawback was that sometimes the actor’s voices didn’t project well, making it difficult to hear unless you were seated near the front. Still, you can’t ask for better summer entertainment, and did I mention that it’s free? – Sharleen Nelson

The production runs Saturday and Sunday evenings through August 26. Performances are at 6:00 pm and include a kid’s pre-show featuring the Story Lady/Lord at 5:00 pm.