A review of Lamar University’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’

Romeo, played by Austin Jones, attempts to wake Juliet, played by Shelby Dryden, during a rehaersal for Lamar University’s production of Shakespeare’s classic play. Photo by Tim Collins, courtesy University Press.

Romeo & Juliet” is an odd play in many ways. It is held up as one of the great tragedies of doomed love, yet when one really thinks on it, what is it really about? A 15-year old and a 12-year old who fall in love after one dance (which Romeo goes to after proclaiming his love for the absent Rosaline), have pre-marital sex, get into a brawl, kill someone, then screw up and die.

Not exactly the best advertisement for the power of love.

Lamar University’s production of Shakespeare’s tale of “starr cross’d lovers,” held March 31 to April 2, in the Studio Theatre, was a nimble and slightly subversive take of the classic story.

Guest director Rutherford Cravens cast a woman, Sydney Haygood, as Romeo’s best friend Mercutio. Haygood stole the show with a performance of vitality and wit. She exhibited just the right amount of braggadocio when showing off in front of Romeo, but when she talks about Juliet, the gender casting suggested that she would be happy to be more than “just friends” with Romeo. Haygood was able to imply the pathos of her situation.

Thomas Gentry Jr. had just the right amount of menace as Tybalt, and the fight scene between Mercutio, Romeo and Tybalt was energetic.

Austin Jones and Shelby Dryden, as the titular characters, were serviceable, although really, as written, the characters are slight, just a pair of children lolling around in love-sick angst.

The show zipped along, running around an hour and a half with no intermission, and the supporting characters nimbly carried the show. Faculty members Catalina Castillón and Joel Grothe, as the nurse and Friar Laurence, were excellent.

Castillón was hilarious in her reactions, successfully implying that her years told her that these lovers, while earnest, were still just children, but also being the supportive mother figure that Juliet did not really have. Tracie VanLaw’s Lady Capulet breezed in and out like a storm, always brandishing a wine goblet. Her self-centered disregard for Juliet’s feelings nicely exposed when she finds her daughter dead.

Grothe’s Friar Laurence, complete with Irish accent, was so measured and wise that one thought, for a moment, that maybe these crazy kids would end up alright.

Alas, as we all know, the course of true love never runs smooth. When Romeo doesn’t receive Friar Laurence’s letter outlining the plan (dammit, Friar John, you had one job!), the pair end up dead — surely there was no need for a spoiler alert.

Shakespeare is often done badly. This was not one of those times. As Mercutio says, “We waste our lights in vain, like lamps by day.” Romeo and Juliet are wasted lights, although it is hard to feel too badly for such ridiculous shenanigans. The tragedy is Mercutio’s, a loyal friend whose love for Romeo killed him.

That’s love for you.

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