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Most all of us have seen some version of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet. There have been the many film versions and the play is done quite often by summer Shakespeare companies – and why not? There is certainly some sort of obstinate enjoyment in the story of two teenaged, star-crossed lovers who sadly end their lives rather than live without their loves. Over the endless tellings of the tale, we find many versions that try to modernize or reconstitute the circumstances of the story – the setting, or the time period, or the characters themselves. Some are done successfully, as in the very ambitious West Side Story; many more are less successful, such as Leonard DiCaprio’s turn in the 1996 film version which, many feel, took things a bit too far.

Director Glenn Dobbs’ vision of the play, which is currently being presented at Wayne Township Community Theatre’s beautiful Ben Davis HS venue, is a tricky combination of the traditional and the reconstituted. Presented on a sparsely designed set, in beautiful traditional-looking costumes, using well-designed set pieces plus some surprising props, and employing a rather enjoyable bit of musical underpinning, the effort is a clearly told, emotionally charged, and visually pleasing production.

Dobbs’ carefully selected cast gives it’s all to the project, resulting in many fine performances – although there is a bit of unevenness at times, due mostly to an intermittent lack of diction and a curious technical choice. Although the actors are all miked with wireless devices, the preferred placement on their person seemed to be problematic. I noted that, in an effort to be unseen, the mikes and their trailing cords were placed along the crown of the actors’ heads. I believe this diminished the help that the mikes gave the difficult dialogue and resulted, sadly, in many lost passages of lines. I believe a more conventional placement of the mikes, at the actors’ cheekbones, might give a much better result. Likewise, the diction problem is fixable, but it is more of an individual responsibility on the part of each actor to energize their roles not only with emotion, but also with technique. The script demands a larger effort in this area. I am reminded of an old lesson taught to me long ago which is: the actor’s primary function is to communicate the story to the audience – the audience being the entire purpose of the undertaking. When the lines are lost – the actor fails this purpose.

Michelle Wafford as Juliet in First Folio Prodcutions' "Romeo and Juliet"

Michelle Wafford as Juliet in First Folio Prodcutions’ “Romeo and Juliet”

Given all that – there are some amazing performances. Michelle Wafford is a lovely Juliet, mastering both the sweetness and the myriad of emotions of her character. She is, at every turn, correct in her dramatic choices. Holly Hathaway gives an outstanding performance as the Nurse, weaving the many facets of this classic character into a glowing interpretation – she is spot on with all the technical issues as well, ultimately giving the most understandable performance. Likewise, Tim Fox does a wonderful job with the lively, fun-loving and cynical Mercutio. His turn is full of energy and spunk, and he fills the stage with his presence and performance. Daniel Clymer is a fantastic Friar Lawrence. He too has mastered the technique issues and gives a wholly understandable performance, lighting up the stage with the friar’s helpful and trustworthy nature.

Tristan Ross is appropriately large in his commanding nature and in his emotional losses as Lord Capulet. On both accounts he gives a wonderfully natural performance. John Mortell is intense as Tybalt. His seething hatred of Romeo is obvious and vivid. Carrie Reiberg plays a haughty Lady Capulet, complete with appropriate facial gestures. Added on musical aspects are provided by Al Hoffman and Rachael Whitlock. Their beautiful combined voices and Hoffman’s superior guitar talent fill in the beginnings of the acts and provide a sensitive mood to the final scene – a very well done innovation.

Anderson Parker as Romeo and Mike Varick as Benvolio in First Folio Productions' "Romeo and Juliet"

Anderson Parker as Romeo and Mike Varick as Benvolio in First Folio Productions’ “Romeo and Juliet”

Anderson Parker as Romeo is, I think, a work in progress on this opening night. Parker looks to have a good understanding of the young man, but only seems to allow his character to brush up against his larger emotions without letting him cross over into them. Granted, part of the problem on my end is the mike issue, with some diction energy issues thrown in – but another part is Parker’s not having found that path to Romeo’s intensities in his portrayal. The talent seems to be there, and I have no doubt Parker will uncover that path and accomplish much in this role.

The remaining cast does much good work – smaller roles are well-filled and well done. I think the overall production is a huge accomplishment and that Dr. Dobbs and his entire production staff are to be given a standing ovation for their effort and capability. This was not a pared down production. This was a nearly full-length rendering (yes, 3+ hours that went by fairly quickly due partly to the diligence in scene changes and scene intervals) of the Bard’s most produced tragedy – which is something few companies attempt. Congratulations to all on the achievement!

First Folio’s Romeo and Juliet continues May 31st at 7:30 pm, June 1st at 2:30 pm, June 5th & 6th at 7:30pm, and June 8th at 2:30 pm. There is NO SHOW SATURDAY 6/7. You can get more information by calling the WTCT box office at 317-988-7966 or by going to http://www.firstfolioproductions.org/First_Folio_Productions/Welcome.html .

* Photos from online sources