by Bobby Franklin
“O Romeo, Romeo! – wherefore art thou Romeo?”
In answer to that question, Romeo, Juliet, and all of the Capulets and Montagues are on the Hartford Stage under the very fine direction of Darko Tresnjak.
This Romeo and Juliet is nothing short of superb. Written over 400 years ago, the Hartford’s production of Shakespeare’s work is fresh and alive. The beautifully talented Kaliswa Brewster in her “dream role” as Juliet couldn’t be more perfect in the role as the young Ms
Capulet who is taken with the handsome Romeo played by the equally talented Chris Ghaffari. The two are lovely to watch as their forbidden love blossoms. They perform their parts with much playful humor (the famous balcony scene is among the best and most original I have ever seen) on a versatile set inspired by the work of Italian neorealist cinema, think Rossellini and Visconti.
The first half of this beautiful play is joyful and light. It makes the audience relax and share in the excitement of the title characters as they become more and more enthralled with each other. We laugh and share in their joy. Of course, we are made well aware of the tension that exists between the two families, but some how we feel things will work out just fine. Yes, even knowing the story, our emotions follow that arc. It is the magic director Tresnjak is able to make happen on stage. It is not the first time I have seen him do this.
Mercutio (Wyatt Fenner) is unlike any you have seen before. He is intense and, well, mercurial. And it is when he meets his end that our joyful mood takes a sudden and very real turn. “A plague on both your houses!” Again, it is that Darko magic at work. I observed laughter turn to tears in the audience as things descended into darkness because of the petty hatreds of the two families.
Charles Janasz brings wisdom and warmth to the part of Friar Laurence, and Kandis Chappell as Juliet’s nurse joins him in the failed and finally tragic attempt to reconcile things for the lovers and families. Our hearts break for them as well.
Everyone in the large cast is terrific, the set, with a balcony that extends and recedes from a wall designed after an Italian cemetery wall, and lighting are to the usual high standards of the Hartford. This production is a joy for all of the senses. Within minutes of the opening the theatergoers feel they are a part of all that is happening on the stage.
If you have seen Romeo and Juliet before do not miss this one as it is unlike any before. If you have never experienced it, there is no better time than now to see it for the first time, though I must warn you it may spoil you for future productions.
I have now attended enough Shakespeare productions directed by Darko Tresnjak at the Hartford to say his are by far the best in New England.
I urge you to take the short run down to Hartford to see this play. You’ll be sorry if you miss it.
Romeo and Juliet at The Hartford Stage through March 20th.
Info at www.hartfordstage.org Box Office 860-520-7114