Connections: Fair Verona

Even though Shakespeare’s tale about the star-crossed young lovers is sad, this production is a lot of fun

If you haven’t seen Guild Hall’s “Romeo and Juliet” yet, let me recommend it. 

By the time the paper comes out this week, there will have been four morning performances for school groups, in addition to last weekend’s regularly scheduled shows, and it will be staged again on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Judy D’Mello has reviewed the play for this week’s paper, but I wanted to make a few points before the (ahem) lights go out. 

First, even though Shakespeare’s tale about the star-crossed young lovers is sad, this production is a lot of fun. And don’t be put off if you happen to hear the show is three and a half hours long. The length is because there is lots of imaginative stage play, and the action and high jinks will keep you engaged. 

If you are reading this, you surely know the story of “Romeo and Juliet” — so well, in fact, that if you got tired and had to leave at intermission, it would still be worth checking it out (after all, you know the ending). A totally unexpected element of this most familiar of plays, however, were the technical aspects of this production, which broke new ground. Guild Hall’s John Drew Theater is illuminated with huge visual projections, and all corners of the theater, including doors and boxes as well as aisles, are transformed, almost becoming part of the proscenium.

The projections and lighting were the work of the theater’s assistant technical director, Joe Brondo, and his assistants. Instead of relying on an artificial tree onstage or the projection of trees on a scrim at the back of the stage, for example, the forest — as well as the walls at the Montagues’ and Capulets’ villas — surround the audience, which is brought right into the scene.  

Josh Gladstone, Guild Hall’s artistic director, directed the play and appears in it as Juliet’s irascible father. He put together a cast featuring a wide range of actors, young and not so young, veterans of the stages of New York City as well as several high school students. 

On the night I saw the production, the audience was relatively young. Many seemed to know the actors; one person filmed part of the action on an iPhone. And that, too, might be called groundbreaking. Audiences at cultural institutions here are often gray-haired, and although the museums and theaters try hard to attract younger audiences, it can be hard to get many 30-somethings and 20-somethings to show up. My guess is that Mr. Gladstone had this in in mind as he experimented with his dynamic casting and settings. I’d wager that the resulting embrace by young audiences might be even more enthusiastic than he anticipated. 

I’m thinking of taking my 10-year-old granddaughter this weekend. Her favorite babysitter, Frankie, an East Hampton High School junior, has a starring role, and I can imagine her waving from her seat and trying to get his attention. Word among some of her schoolmates, who came by bus to be treated to a morning performance last week, was that some of the kissing and carrying on was, in their 8 and 10-year-old eyes, rather too risqué. Of course, they say Shakespeare’s Juliet, as written, was probably only 13 or 14 years old herself. Some of what goes on onstage may be grown up for my granddaughter, but it sure beats the stuff she sees on YouTube.