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This article by Joan Crespi was prepared for the June 16, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: ‘Romeo & Juliet’

"Romeo and Juliet,” the current offering of Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival, is performed outdoors under the stars at Pettoranello Gardens, and offers picturesque lakeside views.

The tragedy of young lovers is one of the bard’s most popular plays, so any ensemble doing the play is faced with Ezra Pound’s dictum, “Make it new.” This production gave me a new appreciation of the construction of the play. For every forward advance, an obstacle is thrown in, right up until the denouement.

You may know many of the famous lines, but they should come across as newly spoken, and here they do. The play, directed by Tom Rowan, has the usual static beginning, although the prologue is spoken by several actors as if in a chorus. That the Capulet and Montague families are at war is quickly established by their quarreling servants, although you don’t know who’s who. (Here, and throughout the play, the fight scenes are vigorously choreographed by Rod Kitner.)

A lovesick Romeo (Johnny Giacalone) is chided by his fellows as, in the convention of the time, he plays at love, mooning over Rosaline, not Juliet. Dressed in shiny black pants, red shirt, and heavy, thick-soled boots, Romeo could be today’s youthful gang member. But you know that he is primed for love.

The play brims with the energy, vitality, and the exuberance of youth, although Mercutio (Gaius Charles) overdoes it, bounding and rolling around as if he were playing farce. At the ball, Juliet (Nicol Zanzarella) falls instantly for Romeo, who is already smitten at the sight of her, and these impetuous, young lovers of these warring families begin their desperate cascade to self-destruction.

At the Capulets’ ball, when Juliet dances with Paris (Kenrick Xavier Burkholder), he looks like a fop, a fool, in his silly cap. Is this authentic? Here and throughout Juliet is appropriately clad in filmy costumes and moves with lightfooted grace. Throughout, she is winsome and charming, and speaks the famous balcony speech as though it were her own new-found, emotion-laden words.

There is a point in every good play where, like an airplane, it begins to take off. Here the play begins to take off in the famous balcony scene, where the lyrical lines are spoken by Romeo, still dressed after the ball as if he were a present-day youth gang member, and the innocent, delicate, naive Juliet. The actress looks older than a girl of almost 14, but she manages to achieve the fresh, innocent look of someone so young and — in those days — marriageable. So her father, Lord Capulet (Phillip Clark), strikes a match for her with County Paris.

Special mention should be made of Juliet’s nurse (Janice Orlandi). Juliet’s confident, she is stout, loving, reassuring, practical, articulate, and holds the stage whenever she is on it. Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother (Kate Hall), in a smaller role is also fine, poised and mature, her words especially clear and crisp. Lord Capulet, undistinguished earlier, shows fire as he rages at Juliet’s disobedience when she refuses to marry Paris. Kudos, too, to Friar Lawrence (Donald Kimmel) who — from the play’s mid-point on — has made it all (except the apothecary’s poison to Romeo) possible.

At some points, the costumes and the set were distractions. While both Paris and Lord Capulet are in tails, the gray-blue tails of Capulet make him look like a member of a wedding. And is the nurse’s flowered shirt and scoop-neck jersey top appropriate for a servant, even today? We found the set, bare-bones blue cardboard behind silver aluminum bars in triangles, somewhat jarring.

But, despite the few drawbacks, this production by Princeton Rep, a company celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, earns an enthusiastic: GO.

Romeo and Juliet, Princeton Rep Shakespeare Theater; Pettoranello Gardens Ampitheater, Community Park North, Route 206. Thursday-Sunday, 8 p.m. through June 27, rain or shine. $10 donation. Tickets can be picked up at Thomas Sweet’s, 29 Palmer Square. Call 609-921-3682 for more information.

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