(Photos by Dave Smithson)
Written by Daniella Litvak
How should a theater lover spend their summer nights? By seeing Shakespeare performed in an outside venue, of course. Fortunately, Electric Company Theatre is ready to cater to the craving with their production of Romeo & Juliet.
You’re probably already familiar with the story. There are two households, both alike in dignity. Romeo, a boy from the House of Montague, meets Juliet, a girl from the House of Capulet. It’s love at first sight, but their families hate each other. Will love conquer all and end their parents’ strife?
The Electric Company Theatre’s twist on this classic is to set it during the Great Depression. It’s an odd choice. When you reset or update a classic like Romeo & Juliet, the new setting should enhance the play’s themes or be so transformative as to create an entirely new show. I can’t claim to be an expert on the Great Depression, but nothing about the era seems to make the show resonate more. The laissez-faire of the Roaring 20s, the free love of the 60s, or even the 50s with conservatism clashing with the rise of youth culture – to name a few other decades – would have made more sense as the background for a Romeo & Juliet production.
As presented in this production, the Great Depression setting adds little except to provide a pretext for the cast to wear 1930s costumes, as opposed to Elizabethan, and include a Woody Guthrie-Esque score and some folk song numbers. That said, the folk songs and score were done well. The prologue sounds gorgeous as a folk song. I wish this had been a full-blown musical, as the cast were at their most animated during the song portions, and it would have made this production unique.
On the night I attended, several last-minute substitutes did an admirable job filling in. However, the level of performance from the cast varies. Not all of the individual performances were consistent, with some actors performing more dynamically in some scenes than others. Some actors also projected their voices better than others. There was also noise from nearby traffic and fireworks, so it was hard to hear the dialogue at times.
Unsurprisingly, the most potent scenes feature Tybalt, Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio. Tybalt is as fiery as the text describes him. The great Shakespearean bromance of Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio lives on! All four actors nicely play off each other, and their scenes together are the most fun and exciting in the play.
Romeo and Juliet have the requisite chemistry. They get the balcony scene right. The staging for their intimate scenes was well blocked.
The set consists of a two-level frame suggesting the shape of a large, rustic farmhouse. It fits the Great Depression look the production aims for. The show makes good use of the split levels. Placing the scenes where Lord Capulet barks out orders on the upper level adds grandeur to them, and it nicely contrasts the scenes of Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio’s antics that take place on the ground.
Story8Acting7.5Set & Design7.5Costumes7.5Entertainment7.5
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June 21, 28 July 3 & 5 2022