Theater review: 'Romeo and Juliet' by Gamut Theatre's Harrisburg Shakespeare Co.

Published: Wednesday, June 06, 2012, 8:27 PM Updated: Wednesday, June 06, 2012, 8:34 PM

Most people are familiar with the tragic romance that is William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the story of two star-crossed lovers who take their own lives amid their family’s feud.

Many are “forced” to read and study it in high school or have seen one of its numerous incarnations on film or as a thinly veiled sitcom plot. But the current free production by Gamut Theatre’s Harrisburg Shakespeare Company in Reservoir Park gives us many reasons to see it again.

First, as mentioned, it is free. In these tough economic times, it’s nice to be able to treat the family to quality entertainment and not have to take out a small loan to do so. Opening night saw many families with blankets or lawn chairs enjoying the production under a beautiful star-lit sky.

Second, it is family-friendly. Yes, there are sword fights and death, but the language is clean and its message clear. Finally, it is a quality production. This company knows how to do the classics and it does them well.

Under the expert direction of guest director Karen Ruch, this production transports the action to the shady streets of New Orleans in 1917. Complete with an array of Southern, Creole and Cajun dialects, the adaptation breathes new life into these 400-year-old characters.

While Romeo and Juliet are the title characters and perhaps the best known, Ruch also manages to bring focus to many of the other secondary characters as well. Most productions seem to focus on only the two doomed lovers, but here we are treated to an array of other wonderful interpretations by a talented cast.

Dan Burke turns up the fire as an enraged Lord Capulet and does double duty as fight director for multiple moments of stage combat that wowed the audience and even roused a nearby dog into barking its approval. Ian Potter also played dual roles as scenic designer and Mercutio. His movement and comfort with the language and its cadence brought great fun to the role, especially in his Queen Mab speech.

Thomas Weaver’s portrayal of Tybalt was exciting to watch, and I felt his explanation of the feuding families did great justice to the director’s concept. Bill Eissler found the heart and soul of Friar Laurence as he chides Romeo for his youthful foolishness, but loves him like a son. And Amber Mann’s Nurse has a similar parental relationship with Juliet as her protector and confidant. Her talkative and hilarious portrayal captured the humor of the role and was a personal favorite.

Other standout performances include: David Ramon Zayas as Benvolio, Christina Closs as Lady Capulet, Charles Hooker as Prince Escalus, Eric Dexter Brown as Paris and Amy Alleman Burke as the Chorus and Apothecary. And, of course, Jeremy Patterson as Romeo and Courtney Halla Roy as Juliet bring an abundance of youthful energy and zest for life and each other as the offspring of the feuding Montagues and Capulets.

So pack up the car and family — bring a picnic and the dog, too. Head over to Reservoir Park and enjoy quality Shakespearean theater. This is a great production to expose young audiences to the works of the Bard of Avon or to enjoy like revisiting an old friend. Either way, a magical evening awaits ... and it’s all for free. 

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