HVSF: Romeo & Juliet

Carl Howell (Romeo) & Angela Janas (Juliet) set the stage for a great season in their passionate and extraordinary rendition of the timeless classic. Directed by Christopher Edwards, Photo by William Marsh

The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival opened their beautiful portrayal of Romeo & Juliet Sunday July 1. The over two-hour performance was fresh and deeply emotional.

For those of you hesitant to see yet another rendition of Romeo & Juliet – an often overused classic, the HVSF brings it to new life in a stirring way.

The personal atmosphere allows the audience the opportunity to experience the narrative as opposed to merely observing; the actors enter and exit throughout the entire performance space and get up close and personal with the audience members. During many of the monologue scenes the actors essentially pose the questions to the audience, engaging them as another character.

Similarly, the way the actors use the landscape as much as the stage to their benefit is unique. During the opening introduction, the actors literally come out of the hills in a dramatic way. The introduction sets the stage for a wonderful performance.

The character development by all the actors drew in the audience. All the roles were chosen with care, leaving no one as a weak link.

Carl Howell, who began with the company in 2008, stars as Romeo. He puts his entire being into his character, which is evident in the energy level he exudes. He reveals the inner struggles of Romeo as a zealous, emotion-filled man, torn between his love and his family.

Howell demonstrates the quick emotion changes Romeo undergoes in such scenes as the slaying of Tybalt (Charlie Francis Murphy) and Paris (Patrick Halley). Howell illustrates the depths of Romeo’s character as a man tossed by his emotions as he acts almost simultaneously in passion and rage and bounces between infatuation and hatred.

Angela Janas complements Howell well. Just as Howell shows Romeo at the mercy of his own emotions, so Janas illustrates the rapid transformation of Juliet from a sweet disposition to a raging love; a rage which leads her to fake her own death and tragically take her own life. Janas is in her first season with company, but I expect not her last. Her performance as Juliet  has earned her place on the roster.

The HVSF's creativity stood out in several scenes. First, the fight scene between Tybalt and Mercutio, which I have seen performed in a fairly mundane way, was compelling. Murphy and Shelley displayed the severe hatred each character has for the other. Rather than being a dull necessity to the story, the fight scene escalated the narrative quickly as a natural progression to the climax of the story of woe.

Also, the company creatively shows the parallel scenes when Juliet learns of Romeo's exile and Romeo learns of his own exile. Juliet and her nurse converse simultaneously with Romeo and the friar, but the pairs talk in different settings. The transition between one conversation to the other is creative, dramatic and far from awkward.

Similarly, the cast reveals the irony as Romeo & Juliet go to bed together as a married couple, and Juliet’s family is running around making plans for her marriage to Paris. Again, the two scenes take place at the same time, but oblivious to one another.

The staging of the play’s final scenes was unique and clever.  The play concludes with three bodies strewn across the dirt floor, blood mixing with dust and sweat and the actors disappearing into the night, leaving the audience in tears staring at Juliet’s death bed with a single rose upon it. The HVSF transformed a well-know tragedy, into a tangible, real story that stirred the audience. The company was left with an immediate standing ovation. One could not have asked for a better start to the season for the cast of Romeo & Juliet.

HVSF performs through August. Go to TMIartspage.com for a complete schedule.

The epic battle between Tybalt (Charlie Francis Murphy) and Mercutio (Daniel Morgan Shelley) Photo by William Marsh
Mercutio (Daniel Morgan Shelley) and Romeo (Carl Howell) at the Capulet ball. Photo by William Marsh