Let’s get right to the point. Davis Shakespeare’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” is the best staging of this classic tragedy to play these parts during the past two decades, in my humble opinion. The story of the star-crossed lovers is well-known, but this production zooms in on it in an almost cinematic way. No lingering, wide shots of reveling teenagers. Just straight to the core theme of foreboding, inevitable death.
The minimalist cast of ten act out their roles in little pools of light on an otherwise gloomy stage, with minimal props, and costumes that lean toward browns and black.
Right away, we witness angry words that will result in two bloody deaths before intermission. Listen to the hothead Tybalt, drawing his sword as he describes the revulsion he feels when he hears the name Montague. As Tybalt puts it, “I hate all Montagues, and thee.” And then a duel begins.
The show’s sound design weaves in lots of ambient electronica, with synthesizers holding long, growling low notes to stress the tension between the characters onstage. Even the love chatter between Romeo and Juliet is tinged with foreboding. When Romeo puts himself in danger by climbing over a stone wall to reach a Capulet family garden where he can catch a glimpse of Juliet, she warns Romeo – twice – that her kinsmen will kill him if they find him alone with Juliet in the family compound. Romeo says he doesn’t care, “I have night’s cloak to hide me.”
Director Rob Salas has pruned the script in places, presenting many scenes in tight closeups, and staging the play in a story-circle fashion, each scene flowing directly into the next. The pace is swift as the young lovers meet, decide to marry the next day, and then find themselves enmeshed in a calamitous family feud after blood is shed. This urgent pacing heightens the sense that the young lovers are hurtling toward destruction.
Davis Shakespeare’s production of this classic play is stylish and informed by tradition, but it still hits you in a very immediate way. This is visceral, heart-pumping theater, not a visit to a museum. And it illustrates why Davis Shakespeare has emerged as the region’s newest professional theater company.
The Davis Shakespeare Festival production of “Romeo and Juliet” continues through Oct. 16 at the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Davis.
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