Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair trailer park where we lay our scene - well, not quite, but when the narrator (Amy K. Browne), dressed in shorts cut up to here and chomping on Gummi Worms, spoke the speech, she set the scene quite accurately for the Genesis Repertory Ensemble's production of Romeo and Juliet. The set (by Sky Walters and Sid Hammond) included part of a trailer, a clothesline with assorted laundry, and a ground and walls splattered with paint that could be called Pollock-like, if the denizens of this Verona knew who he was.
That the conceit worked for as long as it did was to the credit of the set; the costumes (uncredited, but heavy on denim); the terrific lighting design (by Adam Bair), which helped create character as well as focus attention; the often good but uneven direction (by Jason Ramirez de Arellano); and some good acting. (There was also a lot of beer-drinking and cigarette-smoking, which fit the milieu.) The play reasserted itself in the second half when the surroundings were no longer novel and many scenes occurred away from the trailer park, but this was never a play that needed gussying up anyway. Some actors used heavy Southern accents (Ian Tomaschik's Escalus, the Prince, was a good ol' Southern boy sheriff), but most only used a suggestion of it.
Amanda Jones's Juliet was a spirited, joyous, passionate rendering that was earthy when needed (particularly with her nurse), and she managed to blend Shakespeare and white trash. She grew visibly older as the tragedies mounted, but retained a teenager's confusion as to why all this was happening to her. Brian Brewer's Benvolio and David Look's Mercutio were quite good, with Look being especially sharp and vibrant. And because his death scene was played quickly, the abruptness highlighted the shock of gang violence. Kelli Hornachek's Lady Capulet clearly wanted her daughter to better herself via marriage in a way she felt she never did; and Josh Bumenfeld's Friar Lawrence was a drinker and a smoker with a dark side who was aided and abetted by evocative lighting. The part of the Nurse is usually infallible, and well-played it can steal the show. In the hands of Nell Gwynn, here it was grand larceny. Coarse, wonderfully bawdy and funny, loving, impatient, and ultimately dumbfounded and outraged by the turns of events, Gwynn had a stage presence that was terrific to behold. (Note to Genesis Rep: how about her in The Skin of Our Teeth?)
Not all was distinguished however. Without a strong Romeo, the play is off-balance, and Travis Taylor didn't hold up his end of the equation. He was well-spoken and got the conversational quality of the part right, but looking dreamy-eyed in the beginning and being hysterical later on isn't enough - more substance is required. Kevin Colbert's Capulet spoke very clearly, but with odd pauses that weighted down his lines.
For this production, the Montagues were edited out, which caused a slight imbalance. Also with Michael Fortunato (Paris), Sid Hammond Tybalt), and Elizabeth MiCari, in a brief but unforgettable appearance as the Apothecary, a vision of the three weird sisters rolled into one.
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Copyright 2000 David Mackler