My wife and I attended the opening performance of Romeo & Juliet at the Orlando Shakespeare Center last night and, as we do all of the Shakespeare plays put on by the theater, thoroughly enjoyed it.
The highlight of the night, though, was when Jim Helsinger, the Artistic Director of Orlando Shakes, was pressed into emergency service as Lord Capulet after actor Johnny Lee Davenport got injured backstage.
The bespectacled Helsinger had to read his lines from a script. But he did so much more than that. He acted the hell out of the role and, at the end, received a standing ovation from the grateful audience for it.
What made Helsinger’s performance even more heroic was that Davenport’s injury occurred right before the beginning of Act III, Scene 4, which meant that Helsinger had to speak and act 260 of the 381 lines (68%) Capulet speaks in the play. Most of these lines are packed with emotion. They include the highly charged scenes between Capulet and his daughter Juliet, who refuses to marry the County Paris, and the final scene where Capulet anguishes over his daughter’s death.
So, kudos to Jim Helsinger and the cast and crew for not only putting on another excellent performance of a Shakespeare play, but for allowing us to witness first hand what the phrase ”the show must go on” truly means.
The star-crossed title characters were played admirably by Michael Raver and Stella Heath. It was clear from their performances – they pant, they sigh, they yearn – that the director, Thomas Ouelette, wanted them to behave like the infatuated teenaged lovers they are.¹ Raver and Heath do a yeoman’s job.
But for me – and the passel of 12 year old students sitting in the row behind me who laughed at every bawdy pelvic thrust in the play (and there are many of them in Ouelette’s version) – the real star of the play was Geoffrey Kent as Mercutio. Kent is, of course, funny, but he is so much more than that. Ouelette told us in his pre-play presentation that Mercutio has a dark side and he wanted to make this evident. Kent pulls it off with aplomb, especially at the end of his famous Queen Mab speech when he seems to be talking from his own experience of unrequited love:
This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night,
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:
This is she—
If you haven’t seen a Shakespeare play at The Orlando Shakespeare Center, you are missing something truly special. Go see Romeo & Juliet and bring your kids. It’s the perfect play to introduce children to Shakespeare. Be forewarned, though, that in addition to the bawdy gestures, the play has some violent moments and lots of fake blood. It’s probably not for children under the age of 12.
¹ I saw an old film version of Romeo & Juliet where a fortyish Leslie Howard plays the part of Romeo. It bordered on the absurd.