THEATER REVIEW: By remaining true to Bard, ‘Romeo’ production connects

Romeo and Juliet/ Shakespeare & Company/ Lenox, MA

IF, FROM HEAVEN, Shakespeare has been observing all the jerking around his scripts endure, he must now be smiling, sighing, and wafting hand-smooches toward his Mistress, director Daniela Varon.

Her invention is everywhere in Shakespeare & Company’s 2011 Romeo and Juliet; and all of it serves the word. Her direction is fresh with a kind of knowing modesty.

The movement (staging) of the actors seems inevitable, which can only mean it is actor/director wisdom. A line may get an unexpected twist without being twisted out of Shakespearian shape. There is simplicity, clarity. Even the excessive Kevin O’Donnell as Mercutio, in his death scene, turns excessiveness into something so genuine that one grieves and shares his anger and surprise.

The decision to costume almost everything in white with mere hints of mixed periods in skirt lengths, jackets, shawls is perfect. It removes so many burdens from the audience, leaving us focused on the text. Even so, costumer Kiki Smith lets us gorge on one color-rich, Elizabethan dessert-scene of golds and maroons, purples and mossy greens — no less tasty for its familiar look.

In those costumes, the company flows into a lovely, lyrical group dance, choreographed by Susan Dibble and set to minor-mode music, all of which sets up the lovers’ first encounter with a touch of light-dark beauty. The mixing of periods sits very unobtrusively on the play.

Starla Benford brings a sharp intelligence to Nurse’s vulgarity, warmth and dull wit; and though you may think during the first half that you really ought to object to the milking of the “feisty, modern black-woman” cliché, I promise you, you will find the fun of it irresistible. As the tragedy unfolds in the second half, with touching, sober honesty, Benford proves that there is much more than that in her bag of tricks.

How difficult it is to cast the lovers! Here, Susannah Millonzi’s Juliet is especially effective during part one, pouring out her irrepressible sexual excitement in hundreds of different emotional colors. But it is hard to ignore the fact that this Juliet might be more at home on the soccer field than in the drawing room; and, should her love affair avoid its early demise, she would surely, in future years, devour her Romeo (David Gelles) at lunch. This appears to be a Milllonzi/Varon choice; and it could work under different circumstances.

Her pretty-but-bold features overwhelm his more delicate ones. His under-nourished voice cannot sustain the big emotions — at least until the end, when it is fattened by some splendid rage.

The beautiful, elegant Kelly Curran is a wonderful Lady Capulet, shaped to her wifely role by class and patriarchy, yet confused and disturbed by a willful daughter whom she is incapable of understanding.

It is hard to imagine a better Friar Lawrence. The bare simplicity of Walton Wilson’s performance allows a complete man to come alive, one who warmly puts benevolent intentions to work only to discover that fate has coldly stomped on them.

My theater companions were not happy with the staging of the balcony-scene-without-a-balcony. Both lovers are on the main level, Juliet placed a bit above and behind her Romeo. They each send the familiar lines out front to the imaginary other. I loved it. It seemed to say, “Just listen. Listen anew.”

To my surprise, I didn’t mind the electronic sounds of most of the incidental music by Scott Killian. It is well-composed and effective. Even more of it would be welcome.

In spite of ill-matched lovers and some inadequate voices, this production works. It works mainly because of the understanding between you-know-who and his director, Daniela Varon.

The play is in repertory through September 3. Reservations at 413 637-3353 or

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