Summit Players present a high octane ‘Romeo & juliet’
By MARILYN JOZWIK
Published June 17, 2019
The Summit Players, a group of college students and recent grads, put on a fast-paced 90-minute version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” giving emphasis to Shakespeare’s joy, wit and whimsy rather than dragging out the pathos. The show, part of the Shakespeare in the State Parks summer series, is directed by Maureen Kilmurry, Sydonia Lucchesi is the production manager and A.J. Magoon the tour manager.
This group was on high octane for the preview performance Friday outside the Helfaer Theatre at Marquette University. Using a small, simple, portable set behind which actors changed for various roles, the show put the spotlight on the energetic performances, which were uniformly wonderful.
The whole show is cleverly staged, including audience participation as they shout, “Down with the Capulets” or “Down with the Montagues” – sometimes in tandem -- during appropriate parts of the play. The audience also calls for Romeo and mimics sounds of the wind and birds, which made the show even more engaging.
Cast members are brimming with emotion, especially the lovers Romeo (Ryan Zierk) and Juliet (Nadja Simonds). You can truly feel their passion after the two meet at a party. Their youthful ardor is palpable, as are their desperation and grief.
Simon Earle, Jackson Hoemann, Hannah Klapperich-Mueller and Caroline Norton play all the other characters, quickly donning headwear, capes and other costume pieces over jeans and T-shirts, each wearing a pair of brightly colored basketball shoes. The efficient costumes, which straddle the 16th and 21st centuries, were designed by Amelia Strahan.
The show progresses through the party and fights between the enemy families (the Capulets and the Montagues) in which Mercutio, Tybalt and Paris all die, the surreptitious and famous rendezvous of Juliet and Romeo on her balcony, the secret marriage of the star-crossed lovers, the Friars’ plan to keep Juliet from marrying Paris that goes terribly wrong and the ending that brings the families together.
The show flies by with the cast giving the Bard’s most popular piece a youthful vibe.
All the lines Shakespeare fans can’t wait to hear are well-delivered, such as Romeo’s proclamation of the story’s theme after a fight: “Here’s much to do with hate but more with love,” as well as Juliet’s “My only love sprung from my only hate” after learning that Romeo is a Montague.
I loved the many comic touches provided by the actors, especially Norton’s take on The Nurse. Her wide-eyed expressive face and clear, well-projected voice, plus a great sense of comedy, made her characters utterly engaging. In the scene where she milks the hardships she endured on her visit to Romeo, she spouts to Juliet, emphasizing each word, “Can’t you not see I am out of breath?” It is a charming scene as Juliet proceeds to rub her head and back, while quizzing The Nurse on Romeo.
Klapperich-Mueller dies fairly early as Mercutio in a nicely played scene that could’ve turned into slapstick. She returns for other well-played roles, including Lady Capulet.
Earle gets to die twice – as Tybalt and Paris – handling the sword fight scenes with Romeo with vigor and expertise. Even though there were no swords, clanking effects enhanced the scenes. Like Norton, Earle gives distinctive characterizations to several smaller roles.
As Friar Lawrence, the fateful couple’s friend and cleric, Hoemann delivers a heart-wrenching speech when he learns that his note to Romeo describing his clever plan never reaches its target. The results are tragic. Hoemann also does well as the peacemaker Benvolio and other roles.
Besides a fine, young cast who seemed so utterly comfortable in their many roles, there were several touches that added to the performance, including occasional musical intonations by the cast (music direction by Armando Harlow Ronconi), as well as period instrumentals, the clever use of the small staging area with characters popping up behind the backdrop or through the audience plus scenes that were dynamic, in constant motion, with performers leaping off blocks or using big movements to emphasize the language. Carl Eiche is the show’s scenic director.
With its young cast and fine interpretation this would make the perfect introduction to Shakespeare for young people.
If you go
Who: Summit Players
What: “Romeo and Juliet”
When: 7 p.m. Friday, June 21 (workshop, 5:30 p.m.)
Where: Havenwoods State Forest, Milwaukee
Info: All performances are free; visit www.summitplayerstheatre.com for the complete schedule of shows at parks throughout Wisconsin.