Saturday, September 29, 2012

OSF: Romeo and Juliet

Tuesday we kicked off a two-week visit to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival by attending a performance of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Laird Williamson.

Alejandra Escalante as Juliet. OSF
photo by Jenny Graham.
Romeo and Juliet always seems to be a challenge. It is performed so often—this is the 13th time it has been produced at OSF since the festival began in 1935—and the text is so familiar that one has to wonder what else they're going to do with it. In this case, Williamson chose to set the play around the time of the Gold Rush in late 1840s California. But frankly, I didn't find myself thinking much about the setting during the show. It was still just about two kids from feuding families going ga-ga for each other. 

The two kids are played marvelously by newcomers to the festival. Daniel José Molina makes his OSF debut this year as Romeo, and Alejandra Escalante is in her second year, having played Juliet in Measure for Measure in 2011. It seems the temptation is to either cast the two leads as numbskull teenagers and discount their love, or as deadly serious and forget they're kids. Williamson, Molina, and Escalante strike a good balance between the two. 

The rest of the performances were solid, too, but a couple of them stood out. Isabell Monk O'Connor was great as the nurse to Juliet. Jason Rojas, another new face to OSF, was fantastic as Mercutio. OSF veteran Tony DeBruno, in his 20th season at the festival, was spot-on as the friar, though his note to Romeo doesn't get delivered in time, which leads to a tragic end.

It is not always so, necessarily. The first time we saw Romeo and Juliet in Ashland, the leads were played by John Tufts and Christine Albright; while they finished the play stone dead in the Capulet crypt, they eventually married in real life. Though that 2007 production pre-dates the Weisenheimer blog, it remains memorable in that it was the only time we've been rained on here in eight years attending the festival. While we were under cover of the roof, I was worried about Albright in particular, who spent the night getting drenched wearing naught but a flimsy nightgown for the show. Somehow she avoided pneumonia. They've gone on to be regulars here, and Tufts this year completes a three-year run as Hal, with the lead in Henry V. We look forward to what the future holds for Molina and Escalante.

Romeo and Juliet runs through Nov. 4 at the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland.

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