Thursday, June 23, 2022

"Romeo and Juliet" by Zephyr Theatre at Aamodt's Apple Farm

Zephyr Theatre's summer outdoor Shakespeare tradition continues with the rom-com-turned-tragedy Romeo and Juliet at an idyllic spot on Aamodt's Apple Farm. It always feels like Shakespeare was meant to be experienced in the great outdoors, in a more intimate and relaxed setting like this. Despite the tragic outcome of the play (I always hope that somehow the friar's message will get through to Romeo and those two crazy kids get to run away together as they planned, but nope), it's a lovely evening in a perfectly gorgeous setting. So check the weather, dress and hydrate appropriately, and go see some Shakespeare in Stillwater this weekend!

for never was a story of more woe than this of
Juliet (Eva Gemlo) and her Romeo (Bradley Johnson)
(photo courtesy of Zephyr)
Directed by Randal Berger (who also plays the friar) and Sean Dooley, the play starts out fun and playful - Romeo kidding around with his friends, Juliet and family preparing for a party. Romeo and Juliet's iconic meeting is quite charming in the hands of Bradley Johnson and Eva Gemlo, who both give natural and passionate performances (such ecstasy! such weeping!), with a sweet chemistry between them. Things turn dark at the end of the first act when, after their secret marriage, Romeo kills Tybalt who killed Mercutio (Elizabeth Efteland in a gender-bending role, creating some fun flirting with Raúl Arámbula's Benvolio). The second act is all tragedy, marching towards the inevitable conclusion. It's a story frequently told, but one that never gets old with its themes of young and stupid love, and divisions within a society having tragic results.

They perform an a gentle hillside next to the vineyards (with characters sometimes retreating to the vines in the background), with audience seated in a few rows on one side (VIPs get chairs and a dessert, free tickets are bring-your-own-seating). A couple of prettily decorated gazebos frame the performance space, and the plentiful fight scenes are thrilling. Characters are dressed in what appears to be early 19th century attire, which looks nice but seems a bit heavy for the season and setting (I pity the actors performing in multiple heavy layers in 90 degree heat). The actors are miked, which perhaps is necessary for the wide open space, but sitting near the speaker it was way too loud. It's a bit too ASMR with every little sound each actor makes picked up and amplified. But on the other hand every line is clearly heard! (Costume design by A. Emily Heaney, combat choreography by Jessica Thienes, set design by Franz Hall, sound design by Nathaniel Glewwe.)

Romeo and Juliet continues through this Sunday only. And stay tuned to Zephyr Theatre for an upcoming announcement of this summer's "Broadway at the Bridge" - a musical performed by the river in front of the historic Stillwater bridge in mid-July.