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In 1562, English poet Arthur Brooke wrote about two teen-agers who came to a tragic end by disobeying their parents. William Shakespeare had a different take on the story, making it a play about two innocent victims of a family feud.
The Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre's season continues with performances of “Romeo and Juliet” in the University of Central Arkansas's Reynolds Performance Hall in Conway. Chris Crawford and Marin Miller appear in the title roles, producing artistic director Matt Chiorini is the mercurial Mercutio and Dan Matisa the peacemaking Benvolio (the name means “goodwill”). Brett Ihler brings the animal energy of his Caliban in the AST's “The Tempest” to the role of Tybalt, the Capulet family's “saucy boy.”
The role of Juliet has usually been played by actresses much older than the 14-year-old heroine. Miller not only looks convincingly youthful, she brings an ingenuousness to the part of a girl who, expected by her parents to marry Count Paris (Chris Fritzges), is just beginning to think of herself as a woman. Crawford is an ardent Romeo.
Juliet's nurse, one of Shakespeare's great comedy roles, is outstandingly portrayed by Monica Clark-Robinson. In the course of the play she evolves believably from an affectionate nursemaid to her charge's accomplice in romance to a philosophical mentor.
Worth mention in the ensemble is Greyson Lewis, who played Sebastian in “The Tempest.” Here, Lewis brings a comic touch to his part as the Capulets' servant. Unable to read, he guilelessly reveals the guest list for the Capulets' masked ball to Romeo and Benvolio, who decide to crash the party. This is where Romeo meets Juliet and — forgetting his most recent crush, Rosaline — falls in love at first sight.
Kevin Browne of the UCA faculty brings both sympathy and comedy to his role as the friar Romeo persuades to marry him and Juliet.
The production is characterized by an infectious energy, with delightful dances and believable fight scenes, choreographed by James Alan Harris (who also plays Prince Escalus). Chiorini's Mercutio displays his comic wit in the duel with Tybalt.
Although director Jeffrey Frace uses it to maximum effect, the Reynolds Performance Hall's cavernous stage is not the actors' friend. Shakespeare's challenging language is sometimes garbled or even lost as a result of poor acoustics. One cast member who handles his voice and the language exceptionally well is Christopher Swan as Juliet's father, Lord Capulet. He's paired with another UCA professor, Paige Reynolds, as Lady Capulet. Angie Gilbert and Eric Binnie are Romeo's parents, Lord and Lady Montague.
The single, well-constructed set takes us from the Verona town square to the Capulets' ballroom to Juliet's balcony and then her tomb. Costumes, although a mixed bag, have a generally Renaissance look.
It's encouraging to see children enjoying the AST's productions. “Romeo and Juliet” is especially child-friendly, with the young lovers bedded down offstage and out of view.
The AST will give two more performances of “Romeo and Juliet,” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 27, and Sunday, June 29. The performance runs about three hours with one 15-minute intermission. The AST's two other productions also have more performances scheduled: “The Sound of Music” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 2 p.m. Sunday, and “The Tempest” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. For ticket orders or more information, call 450-3265 or 866-810-0012.