I really don’t have to write more than one word about Psittacus Productions’ Romeo and Juliet at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater: WOW. That’s it. Yes, all-caps.
I had only a vague idea about the production coming into the theater; I was under the unfortunate impression that what I was going to see was something along the line of Romeo & Juliet: The Musical. And yes, there is plenty of music, but this isn’t your standard Broadway fare.
It’s a whole lot better.
Five actors brilliantly play the parts of everyone in the story, adjusting their costumes slightly to go from male to female, young to old. (Imagine Friar Lawrence in a hoodie, Juliet’s nurse with a tablecloth around her—his!—waist, Thibault dangerous in black leather). I’m thinking about those costumes as I’m writing this, but they were imperceptible when I was in the audience; the characters so transcended what they were wearing—and what they were wearing was so appropriate.
It’s best described, perhaps, as a play with choral music and ballet moves. The performance starts out all music, but the genius of this production is the perfectly seamless transition from singing the words to speaking the words; one’s never really sure where one ends and the other begins. And the harmonies these five people produce would put any self-respecting doo-wop group to shame. Tight, perfect in timing and pitch, it’s like hearing one voice singing all the parts at once. Both the exposition and the dialogues are often sung, the actors proving themselves to be versatile musicians as well, using the set’s grand piano and electric and acoustic guitars.
And it goes fast! None of the long sighs and silences so often affected by Shakespeare productions: the words spill from their mouths, tumbling one over the other, moving the story relentlessly forward. It’s Aaron Sorkin meets William Shakespeare. It’s mesmerizing.
There are no breaks; all five actors are on stage for the length of the play, helping the audience feel a breathless continuity as the scenes roll out, one on top of the other, so that the play ends up comprising one scene only. It’s an exciting, extremely youthful whirlwind of sight and sound and a sense of the inevitability of the tragedy that’s approaching at breakneck speed.
As Juliet, Ruby Wolf is vulnerable yet determined. Wolf is no stranger to the Outer Cape; she’s appeared at WHAT and with the Peregrine Theater Ensemble, as well as at the Payomet Performing Arts Center and the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival. She’s easily believable as a young teenager, falling for the wrong guy and baffled that things cannot just work out. Her dress and bare feet give her an ethereal air and Wolf’s work around Juliet’s suicide in particular is amazing, downplayed, stripped of all theatrics, tragic in its simplicity.
Alec Funiciello is a beautiful Romeo, poised on the cusp of manhood, by turn passionate and fiery and gentle and tender. Gracefully athletic, handsome and hinting at enormous hidden energy, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface of Funiciello’s Romeo; he makes it easy to see why a teenaged girl would fall for him.
Matthew Dean Marsh is the musical genius who stays most of the time in the background on the piano bench, coming forward to play Lady Capulet in a performance just this side of over the top. As I’ve said, the music composition and arrangement is sheer genius, and that’s down to this guy.
The two final actors play a bewildering number of roles: Lord Capulet, Mercutio, Friar Lawrence, Benvolio, Tybalt and, of course, the inimitable nurse. Paul Corning Jr. is athletic (well, he does ride a bicycle around NYC every day!); but there the common elements of all his parts end: he is by turn brooding, dangerous, and reassuring. And Nathan Winkelstein moves seamlessly from the ever-present and often bumbling nurse to taking on the roles of friend and foe alike—and is totally believable in all of them. He handles humor well even when, in a second, the humor becomes dark in ways that feel inevitable.
All of these actors were close to perfect. Want to learn more about them? Check out their bios here.
Brilliant, youth-driven, exciting, there is nothing here for WOMR’s resident theater critic to criticize! The set manages to not feel black-box, the use of umbrellas to transition people around the stage is inspired, and honestly? anyone who misses out on this production is truly unfortunate. It’s a fantastic start to a great season at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater!
Romeo and Juliet, reviewed by Jeannette de Beauvoir
Directed by Louis Butelli and in association with Psittacus Productions and Lincoln Center Education. Photos by Michael and Suz Karchmer.
March 23-April 9, 2017