Romeo and Juliet in Seward Park

Bloody Romance but Beautiful Rebellion

GreenStage set off its 35th year of “Shakespeare in the Park” with a rousing performance of Romeo and Juliet at Seward Park Amphitheater on Friday night. Directed by Luke Sayler, this production of Shakespeare’s most famous play reminded audiences why the love story still persists today—not merely for its bloody romance but its beautiful rebellion.

Everybody knows this story: set in fair Verona, we find ourselves torn between two warring families, the Montagues and the Capulets. The production captures the feeling well, utilizing the gorgeous outdoor space to highlight the tension between the violence and romance of the play. In all the scenes with Romeo and Juliet, for instance, the stage is filled with the overwhelming nature of their love, light and heavy at once, as it is doomed with the threat of war moving always around them. The same is just as true when the fighting inevitably takes over, weighing on the innocence that never can be. In this way, Sayler’s direction and Josh Kibbey’s stage management utilize the amphitheater space well, becoming larger than life as the characters mill about Verona and the audience, while still remaining confined to the city and the death that follows them.

Tom Dewey’s powerful performance of Prince Escalus immediately sets this tone by commanding the audience with his opening narration. Dewey also does a fantastic job as the fight choreographer for the play, creating awesome action sequences that immerse the audience in its warring atmosphere. David Elwyn as Tybalt absolutely slayed in these scenes. His performance felt dangerous and provocative and captured the catalyst that his character is to the story. Elwyn was a perfect threat as Tybalt, sharp, menacing, and piercing.

In contrast, Anthony Duckett as Mercutio provided some much needed comic relief. His performance was over-the-top while still being both believable and charismatic, which is why his line delivery elicited the most laughter from the audience. Yet, Mercutio presents his own risk of toxic masculinity, which Duckett clearly understood well. Benvolio alongside him, played by Bryce Publow, made for a fun and dynamic duo. Publow delivered some hilarious lines of his own, but also did not shy away from the more dramatic scenes. 

Another humorous performance was Nurse Angelica played by Gail Javarah Wamba. She won me over immediately with her shrill voice and accent and animated expressions. In particular, her scenes with Josh Kibbey as Peter were lighthearted and fierce, reminding us why Juliet confides in her so. Similarly, Tony Driscoll played a perfectly supportive and sympathetic Friar Laurence. This character has so much heart and provides a nice reprieve from the constant gang violence. Driscoll brings a lot of care into his performance, which is evident any time he talks to Romeo. 

Romeo certainly needs a Friar Laurence in his life with all of his big emotional outbursts. I love that we are introduced to his character already mourning and in love with a character we never see. Romeo is the original emo lover boy to which we owe so many of his modern day variations. In that way, Joe Moore perfectly captured his moody intonations, dramatic monologues, and fanatical obsessions. While Romeo is often regarded as a true romantic, Moore highlights the boyish immaturity that is often overlooked when it comes to this character. In his director’s notes, Sayler suggests that Romeo and Juliet should not be read as a model for true love but an act of teenage rebellion. In this way, Moore’s performance makes perfect sense for Romeo, elucidating why the character clings onto love so desperately, in the first place.

While I loved Romeo’s fanaticism, Jasmine Neshama Harrick’s Juliet stole the show for me. Harrick certainly captured Juliet’s innocence and beauty, but like Moore’s Romeo, unlocked the character’s forgotten edge. Juliet is a teenage girl, first and foremost, which is why she finds herself easily swept up in a star-crossed romance. Yet, it is not so easy for Juliet to simply exist, which is why she must also be sharp and cunning in a way that only a teenage girl can. Romeo certainly has his own reasons for rebelling, but it is Juliet who must. In order to pursue her own way in life, she must escape the control of old men by way of a desperate love. Harrick perfectly captures Juliet’s desperation. She seems so young on the stage, pleading to her nurse, hiding from her mother, and even “writing in her diary” by confiding in the audience. While Romeo’s motives seem one-dimensional at times, Juliet surprises me with her depth.

The parents of both Romeo and Juliet allude to these differences between them. For instance, Lord and Lady Montague are not nearly as present as Lord and Lady Capulet. Sean Patrick Taylor gives a lethal performance of Lord Capulet who is rarely roused to anger except by his own daughter. I enjoyed this performance because it was benign on the surface up until Juliet dared to defy him. Similarly, Kimberlee Wolfson was frightening as Lady Capulet. She showed little warmth to Juliet, commanding her as she and her husband saw fit. In this way, Juliet’s home life appears much more confined than Romeo’s, a different kind of violence that he is not used to experiencing. Even Jared Sandoval as Count Paris illustrates how trapped Juliet is; Sandoval captures the threat that Paris is to Juliet’s future. In contrast, Bob Downing as Lord Montague is much more subdued, as is Molly Kaleo Bauckham as Lady Montague. 

While Lady Montague had little time on stage, Bauckham was one of the highlights of the show as the musician, playing the harp and piano beautifully and perfectly setting the tone in any and every scene. Overall, the sound for the production was relatively good, besides the occasional plane or helicopter flying overhead. Yet, watching this play outside felt like how it was meant to be enjoyed, which is why these hiccups did not detract from the experience. Finally, the costumes in this production were simple yet stunning. I loved the use of color—even beyond the obvious blue for Montague and red for Capulet. For instance, Tybalt’s red was especially vibrant with a vest that felt as sharp as he was. Mercutio wore a checkered suit that illustrated his jester-like qualities while distinguishing him from the two families. Both Romeo and Juliet wore lighter colors, as well: Romeo a softer blue with a looser fit, Juliet in an elegant and girly pink gown. 

This attention to detail made for a visually appealing production throughout its entire runtime. I even loved how the sun began to set as the play’s themes got darker and darker, night eclipsing the death that runs rampant in the second act. I would say my only complaint with this production is that there was no intermission to separate the acts from each other. This was definitely ambitious with a runtime of over two and a half hours. I wouldn’t say that the play lost its momentum, but the audience might have. 

That being said, this is certainly a play worth experiencing! There is a reason why Romeo and Juliet never gets old. I would only recommend bringing plenty of snacks, drinks, blankets, and chairs in order to stay comfortable through this long and tragic love story. Shakespeare in the Park is free to all and will be running every weekend from July 7 to August 12 around Seattle, Burien, Fall City, and Lynnwood. Check out their schedule here at greenstage.org/shakespeare-in-the-park-2023 in order to find a show near you!

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