Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is like your grandmother’s silver tea set: it grows more valuable with age, each generation has its own appreciation for it, and it can take on a different look when you change its setting.
The latter is the case with the Denver Center Theatre Company’s production of the Bard’s popular play about the young star-crossed lovers who come from feuding families in 16th century Verona, Italy. Everyone knows the story and can quote at least one of the many famous lines (O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?). Most people understand its themes of impetuous love, senseless quarreling and violence, serendipitous events, and life and death. And nearly all theatergoers have a vision of an elaborate Elizabethan era staging for the tragedy.
Ah, therein lies the rub.
For this production, Director Scott Wentworth chose an abstract set that at first glance seems austere, minimalist. What, no balcony and garden for one of the most famous scenes in all of Shakespeare? (But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?) Instead, Juliet stands atop a rectangle box that eventually becomes the coffin on which the lovers die. Opening the first scene with that box hints of the death theme that we know will draw our tears at the play’s end.
As the play progresses, one realizes that without an embellished set, one can focus on the actors (who are fantastic) and the play on words for which Shakespeare is known and, what’s more important, the meaning of the words.
“I wanted to have a realistic costume world but a scenic world that would provide access to the mythological story,” said Wentworth in Applause, the magazine of the Denver Center for Performing Arts. “When the text seems to be saying that this language is more mythic or psychological, we’ll have access to it in a way that a realistic setting might not give us.”
Lenne Klingaman gives a stellar performance as 14-year-old Juliet in her Denver Center debut. Her balcony scene shows an adorable, giddy teenager in love. In contrast, her soliloquy in the tomb debating whether she should take the Friar’s potion simulating death is grown-up gut-wrenching, a remarkable piece of Shakespearean acting. Romeo, too, as played by Charles Pasternak is equally as passionate and desperate. Other outstanding performances are given by DCT’s Jeanne Paulson as Nurse and J. Todd Adams as Mercutio. Much of the play’s bawdy humor comes from these two.
Don’t miss this chance to see Shakespeare’s timeless work so flawlessly performed; you may never get another serendipitous moment.
Romeo and Juliet plays at The Stage Theatre Tuesday-Thursday at 6:30 p.m.; Friday-Sunday at 7:30 p.m. and at 1:30 Saturday and Sunday. For tickets, call 303-893-4100 or visit www.denvercenter.org. Student rush $10 tickets are available one hour prior to curtain with a valid student ID subject to availability. Senior and military rush tickets are available one hour prior to curtain, subject to availability. No children under six.