Star-crossed lovers find refuge from the pulsing Verona
It is the simplest of things, really: an entrance.
But considering who is entering — Romeo — and when he’s entering — summoned back by his love, Juliet, near the end of the balcony scene in Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s wonderful new production of “Romeo and Juliet” — it is a loaded entrance.
Carl Howell as Romeo hurls himself onto the bare tent-covered spot of land that is the stage, declaring:
“It is my soul that calls upon my name:
How silver-sweet sound lovers’ tongues by night,
Like softest music to attending ears.”
Quite an entrance, in a play that is so well-trod and studied as to be hard-wired into modern minds. Yes, festivalgoers will arrive knowing some speeches by heart. But to see young love — even tragic young love — played out before us with such style and commitment is to remember when parting was unbearable sweet sorrow.
That’s what’s loaded into that entrance, that jump-out-of-your-skin energy that director Christopher V. Edwards harnesses in his two leads: the solid and believable Howell and the preternaturally adorable Angela Janas.
Howell plays Romeo as “fortune’s fool,” whose impetuous youth gets the better of him. Janas captures the 14-year-old Juliet’s impatience and wide-eyed wonder early, but later finds her character’s clear-eyed resolve. Her eyes, wide or clear, dance in the light.
William Neal’s soundtrack for the work, set in contemporary Verona and Mantua, pulses and vibrates, rattling the 500 seats under the tent at Boscobel. But when the young lovers take their moment after intermission, it is Janas singing Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” set to Howell’s soft acoustic guitar: They find refuge in each other.
Edwards has a mostly young cast here, and some of the line deliveries are uneven, but veterans Stephen Paul Johnson and Katie Hartke bring depth to the Capulets and newcomer Charlie Francis Murphy captures the drive of Juliet’s fiery cousin, Tybalt.
As the trusted advisor, Friar Lawrence, Ryan Quinn is exceptional, finding the character’s wisdom and heart and letting us see it all break down in the play’s final moments.
As Juliet’s nurse, festival first-timer Denise Cormier makes the boldest choice, playing her as a wise-cracking, platinum-blonde Miss Adelaide from “Guys and Dolls.” If she had gum, she’d snap it. It’s a calculation that pays big dividends early — when the comedy flows — but less so when things turn dark. Still, Cormier proves even comic hearts can break.
Director Edwards takes some risks here, the most successful of which is staging two revelation scenes — when the nurse tells Juliet of Tybalt’s death and the friar tells Romeo of his banishment — simultaneously, alternating speeches. The result is cinematic and effective.
Another home run is in how Edwards empties the stage at the end.
It is the simplest of things, really: an exit.
But the way director Edwards has the star-crossed lovers (and Juliet’s ill-fated suitor, Paris) removed from that bare spot of land speaks volumes.
They are borne away, one at a time, not by pall bearers, but like children being carried up to bed.
They are, after all, just children.
“Romeo and Juliet” in repertory with “The 39 Steps” and “Love’s Labours Lost” (which opens June 30) through Labor Day weekend. Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Boscobel Restoration, Route 9D, Garrison. $37 to $60. 845-265-9575. www.hvshakespeare.org.