By Bridgette M. Redman
There is much in “Romeo and Juliet” that is comedic, but at its heart, the story is still a tragedy filled with the intensity of doomed love and foolish feuds.
Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company has a history of performing Shakespeare that is accessible and entertaining. They use “original practices,” which include universal lighting, gender-blind casting, doubling, minimal sets and the use of modern music to open each half. These are practices that put a different spin on traditional performances and add a huge dash of fun and energy to each show that they do.
“Romeo and Juliet” opened with a rendition of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” the perfect setup to the famous thumb-biting brawl. This scene makes great use of the compact space. Three sets of duelers create sufficient confusion to make the brawl seem much larger and a true disruption of the streets of Verona.
However, the company appears to be at its greatest comfort with comedies and too many of Alisha Huber’s directing choices in “Romeo and Juliet” weigh toward the humorous to the detriment of the heart of the story.
Sean Kelley as Romeo and Kat Hermes as Juliet both demonstrate that they can be convincing lovers, but not until their wedding scene. Prior to that, the staging works against them and the love story falls flat. The limited room that set up the brawl so nicely crowds out important moments in the dance scene where the lovers meet. In the balcony scene, they stand too far apart and they move away from each other physically on crucial emotional lines. It is unmotivated movement done possibly for stage picture but one that detracts from the intensity of the scene.
There are also characters that are supposed to be infused with a certain amount of gravitas. Scott Lange’s Lord Capulet and Chaz Albright’s Tybalt were buffoonish rather than formidable. Lange’s Mercutio told the audience there was reason to fear Tybalt, but it was never shown in Tybalt himself.
Huber did show excellent directorial skills in Juliet’s death scene, with the keening parents and nurse producing a grief-stricken ruckus that makes the rebuke of Friar Lawrence (Scott Wright) reasonable and fitting.
The company’s costumes create a traditional Shakespearean feel – with the exception of the tattoo on Juliet’s back that should have been covered with makeup, costume or hair. They work well for actors who had to make multiple quick changes into their doubled roles.
In the comic moments, the company excelled. Juliet’s nurse, who shall remain unnamed to avoid spoilers, was witty and droll – everything the part was intended to be. Kelley and Lange, with Rachael Pineiro’s Benvolio looking on, have a sporting go at the pun battle, playing with the language and keeping up an energetic patter.
If “Romeo and Juliet” were meant to be just a comedy, this production would have succeeded. As a love story and a tragedy, it misses the mark.
‘Romeo and Juliet’
Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company at Dog Story Theater, 7 Jefferson Ave. SE, Grand Rapids. Thursday-Sunday through April 22. 167 minutes. $10-15. www.DogStoryTheater.com