REVIEW: ‘Romeo & Juliet’ is more than a free show

Ryan Crowder is Romeo and Julie Lorenz-Olson plays Juliet in the Penfold Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy.  (Kimberley Mead Photo)

Ryan Crowder is Romeo and Julie Lorenz-Olson plays Juliet in the Penfold Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy.
(Kimberley Mead Photo)

By Art Rodriguez

Before we had Republicans vs. Democrats, before we had Texas vs. OU, indeed, before we had the Hatfields and McCoys, we had the Montagues and Capulets. The two fictional feuding families immortalized in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” is considered by some to be his best romantic tragedy.  The story of two star-crossed lovers that unite their families through tragedy still enchants us over 400 years after its first production in London.

As one of Shakespeare’s most produced plays, it is likely that audience members have been exposed to Romeo and Juliet in some iteration.  Thus, one may fall into the rut of “been there, done that” when given the chance to watch another production.

However, the Penfold Theatre’s production of “Romeo & Juliet” delivers fresh performances, ideas, and staging.  Instead of a traditional theatrical setting, Penfold Theatre stages the tragic story at the Round Rock Amphitheatre.

With the outdoor venue, Director Steve Pounders is unconstrained by the typical trappings of a theatre. Pounders utilizes the amphitheater’s sidewalks, aisles, parking garage and natural terrain to transport us from Central Texas to Verona.

Pounders further surprises by culling a 20-character play to five, well cast actors. With five actors, the actors change on stage and transform into different characters. By leaving their costumes on stage, the audience understands the character’s significance in the scene without depriving the audience of their physical absence. This convention is expertly executed.

Costuming is especially important to assist the audience in distinguishing between the actors and the multiple roles they play. The costume designs, provided by Kari Taylor, greatly enhance the performances while furthering the understanding in a complicated cast of characters.  For instance, all members of the Montagues are dressed in blue and Capulets in red. Thus, by a simple change of a cloak and hat, the audience sees the actor transfer from a Capulet to a friar.

Pounders allows Ryan Crowder to really dig deep into the character of Romeo without the need to play other characters.  This freedom from different characters allows Crowder to give Romeo the depth and nuance required of a young man torn between his true love and demands of his family.

Julia Lorenz-Olson pulls triple or quadruple duty as other vital characters in the play, but it is as Juliet that she truly shines. As the young Capulet, Lorenz-Olson embodies the vulnerability of Juliet, but demonstrates the internal strength required of the teen-aged girl who courageously informs her family that she loves someone other than the man they have pre-arranged for her to marry. Juliet is perhaps the toughest of all roles and Lorenz-Olson meets the challenge and accomplishes it with aplomb.

The cast is rounded out by Joseph Garlock playing Mercutio, Friar Laurence, Capulet, Juliet’s father, and other roles.  Kim Adams is cast as Thybalt, Romeo’s nemesis, and a variety of other characters.  Both Garlock and Adams are convincing in whatever role they are tasked to perform at any given moment.  Nathan Jerkins provides much of the comic relief as Juliet’s nursemaid and Prince Escalus.  As the pseudo narrator, Jerkins keeps the crowd in stitches. However, when he must play the serious Paris, Juliet’s betrothed, he is nothing short of excellent.

The production does not leave people wanting. The sword fighting, comedy, drama and suspense keeps the audience’s rapt attention for the two-hour show. Simply, there is something for everyone in this production.

As a free outdoor production, families enjoyed the performance in chairs, on blankets, and by sitting on the grass. Remember to bring your snacks with you.

“Romeo & Juliet” runs Thursday-Saturday nights through June 28th. Showtime is 8 p.m. at the Round Rock Amphitheater, 301 W. Bagdad Ave. in Round Rock 78664.