Monday, June 26, 2017

The Romeo and Juliet Project—Enso Theatre Ensemble—SE Portland

“Star-Crossed Lovers”
The Romeo and Juliet Project—Enso Theatre Ensemble—SE Portland
“Star-Crossed Lovers”
This production is adapted from the Bard by Madeline Shier and Caitlin Lushington and directed by Lushington.  It is playing at The Shaking the Tree space, 823 SE Grant St., through July 9th.  www.ensotheatre.comFor more information, go to their site at

This classic play has been adapted for the stage many times, as well as film.  Among the best was the 1930’s one with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer as the loves, Zefferelli’s with Lenard Whitney and Olivia Hussey and then the re-imagined film by Baz Lurman with Leonardo DeCaprio and Clare Danes.  And one reason that Shakespeare is so popular is that his stories/messages are universal, fitting any culture or age.  As proof, look at the astounding, modern-day musical of it, West Side Story.

And now we have this adaptation, which thrusts it forward into an alternate universe in this electronic age.  The production is done with modern dress and a minimalist set.  It relies on dance-like movements to aid the story and some beautifully stylized fight scenes, choreographed by Alwynn Accuardi, aided and mentored by, the best in the biz, in my opinion, Kristen Mun.  This is a fast-paced, very animated show clocking in at just under two hours.   The diverse, cross-gender casting has most them all playing two or three roles.

The story, in brief, for those of you who don’t know it, is that two feuding, wealthy families, the Capulets (Juliet, Tybalt, Nurse, et. al.) and Montagues (Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio, et. al.) have managed to keep an uneasy peace in their town of Verona.  That is until two of their young pups, Juliet (Amelia Hillery) and Romeo (Claire Aldridge) see, not an adversary across from them, but a human being.  And the fact that they both are in their teens and are fearless, they see nothing wrong in declaring their love.  But, unfortunately, the respective parents, Lady Capulet (Cyndi Rhoads) and Lord Montague (Ross Laguzza), are vigorously opposed to such a union, as is a rather violent cousin of the Capulets, Tybalt (Rhansen Mars), an expert swordsman, the Prince of Cats.

Friends of Romeo’s, Mercutio (Sky Nelson), a rather coarse, loud-mouth, semi-mentor of his and Benvolio (Peyton McCandless), a cousin, also see a problem in these star-crossed lovers’ union.  These  teens, with their raging hormones, are not without their supporters, though, as the worldly Nurse (McCandless, again) is Juliet’s confidant and go-between for them.  And there is Friar Laurence (Laguzza, again) a tutor of sorts to Romeo, who tries to help their plight which, instead, backfires.  But the Capulet’s have their own suitor in mind for their daughter, Paris (Mars, again), a rather vain young dandy. Needless to say this will not end well for anyone.  To witness the outcome, you must see it for yourself.  “What Fools these Mortals be!”

The staging, by Lushington, is particularly engaging.  The actors, at times, not only play different characters but also become part of the set and even a dream-like sequence.  The death scenes of Mercutio and Tybalt are not so much violent, as they reflect a surprise and even sadness in them, as to what they’ve caused because of their rashness and brashness.  It is a story of today’s age, as well, of intolerance and man’s continued inhumanity to his fellow man.  “When will they ever learn?”  A fitting coda to that query might be, in view of current situations, “Quote the Raven, ‘Nevermore!’”

Hillery, a high-schooler, does very well as Juliet and even is the right age for the part.  Aldridge, as Romeo, is equally good.  Both embodying expressively the angst of youth that leads to the tragic conclusion.  Nelson and Mars, as the explosive rivals, are both excellent, giving some fresh perspectives to these well-worn roles, showing that blind bravado can have painful conclusions.  And Laguzza shines in the role of the Friar, giving us a conflicted man who tries to lighten the path in a dark environment.  The whole cast does very well in making topical an ancient subject and doing justice to the poetic language, as well.

Only hiccup I see is that they are in a cavernous space and when the exchanges get loud, some of the lines are lost because of an echoing effect in a large, empty space.  Toning down those very vocal areas and being more articulate at those times might help.

A personal note, the art work on the walls this weekend, are original water-colors by Sarah Andrews, who has her own newly-minted theatre company, Crave Theatre.  Her works are haunting and a bit disturbing.  They suggest an influence of war, politics, pain and alienation and they are for sale.  Worth a deep look.  For more information on them, call 503-931-5664.

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
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