“Romeo and Juliet” is one of the great romances of all time

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The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey

The Shakespeare Theatre has come up with a luminous production

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has long been considered one of the great romantic tragedies of the English-speaking stage. Some consider it to be the greatest romance ever written and its title characters the archetype of young lovers. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey has come up with a luminous production, one to catch the hearts of even those who are familiar with the story through many iterations on stage and screen.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey

Shakespeare’s familiar story is set in the Verona of his imagination. Two families, the Montagues, and the Capulets have been feuding for generations. When the feud leads to open brawling in the streets, the Prince (Jason C. Brown) decrees that further fighting will be punished by death.

Romeo (Keshav Moodliar), the only child of the current Lord Montague (Michael Dale), crashes a ball given by Lord and Lady Capulet (Mark Elliot Wilson, Erin Partin). There he meets Juliet (Miranda Rizzolo), the only child of the Capulets, and the two fall immediately in love. Later in the streets, Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (Torsten Johnson) challenges Romeo for crashing the Capulet ball. Romeo refuses, but his friend Mercutio (Joshua David Robinson), a relation of the Prince, fights in his place. Romeo’s intervention to stop the fight ends in Mercutio’s death, and in revenge, Romeo kills Tybalt. The Prince banishes Romeo on pain of death, but before he goes into exile he persuades Friar Lawrence (Matt Sullivan), who seeks to end the feud by uniting the families, to marry them. The Capulets, misreading Juliet’s grief at Romeo’s exile, order her to marry Count Paris (Ryan Woods), another relative of the Prince. From this point, the story leads to its inevitable, well-known end.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey

The cast is marvelous. As the title characters, Keshav Moodliar and Miranda Rizzolo have a powerful chemistry that suffuses the play and illuminates their every line and scene. There is no question that these are two people who are immediately, deeply swept into a love that transcends the clan hatred taught them by their families. They are the pinnacle of a cast that, under the direction of Ian Belknap, mines the strong emotions that run through all the characters of this play.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey

Joshua David Robinson’s Mercutio is a skilled yet hotheaded swordsman, a wit, and the mischievous instigator of the main romance—and all that follows. It is his dying curse, “a plague on both your houses,” that is an early reminder that this is after all one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Erin Partin as Lady Capulet is wrathful revenge personified, in her hatred ordering Romeo’s assassination in his city of exile, while the Lord Capulet of Mark Elliot Wilson is a man whose will is not to be denied and whose word is not to be questioned. As for Juliet’s Nurse, who can so easily be seen as a nattering busybody, in the hands of Aedin Moloney, she becomes a comic gem equal to the best of Shakespeare’s clowns.

The spare but classically-designed set by Lee Savage, beautifully lit by Michael Giannitti with sound design and original music by Fabian Obispo, conjure the city of Verona, from its lordly mansions to its mean streets and friar’s cells. The costumes by Paul Canada are a sumptuous delight. As always, Rick Sordelet shows why he is the fight director of choice in so many productions across the state.

Romeo and Juliet is regarded as equal in popularity with Hamlet of all Shakespeare’s plays. This production at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is so lovingly presented, one hopes against hope that, this time, the ending will be happy despite our knowledge otherwise. I urge you to travel to Drew University in Madison to see this exemplar of romance, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet are presented by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the F.M. Kirby Theatre on the campus of Drew University in Madison through November 17, 2019. For tickets and information, visit shakespearenj.org.