Gamm Theatre's second show of their 25th season is William Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet". It is considered to be one of the greatest works of romantic literature. Written in 1591, it is a story of deep passions which come out as love or violence, the tragic tale soars with the poetry of heartbreak and doomed but perfect love. Director Tony Estrella sets the play in the late 16th century, but it can also be seen as a contemporary play with gang violence, emotionally absent parents, generation gap frustrations, reckless youth, unbridled passion and torrid romantic love. Tony casts his show splendidly and the set design is by Sara Ossana with a unit set of two stairways and the center section doubles as the tomb and other locations. The comic and dramatic moments of the show sparkle and shine with his 21 member cast.(Some funny moments include the first time Juliet is meeting Romeo, she yells at the Nurse while still talking romantically to him and also Mercutio kissing the Nurse and Peter during a confrontation scene.) The fight choreographer, Norman Beauregard does a fantastic job with the opening Greco-Roman wrestling match between Mercutio and Tybalt, the dagger fights and the pratfalls in this show and they are all brilliantly executed by this energetic cast while costume designer David T. Howard captures the spirit of the 16th century with his remarkable costumes including the women's gorgeous gowns. Charles Cofone supplies the music of the time period including madrigals and ominous music during the fight segments especially impressive is the closing song "Blackbird" sung in harmony by the cast while stage manager Marc McClure keeps things running smoothly onstage and backstage.Bravo!
Tony starts the show off with shouts of down with the Capulets and down with the Montagues then the lights come up on the wrestling match to show how the families are life long enemies. He includes the needed exposition in the first act for first time audiences which contains the party scene and some sexual innuendo segments that are very comical. But it is Tony's prowess as a director that make the dramatic moments soar at the end of the first section with the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt and the dynamic second section that will impress even the seasoned Shakespearean theatre goers. Tony is also a topnotch actor and he shines in whatever theatre endeavor he pursues. Romeo and Juliet are played wonderfully by Aaron Rossini and Amanda Ruggiero. They make the transition from carefree youngsters into dramatic adults beautifully. Aaron's love scenes with Amanda are tender and romantic while his scenes with the Friar crackle with electricity as her scenes do with her parents, the nurse and the Friar. When the Nurse finds her dead in bed, Wendy, Tom and Karen make it into a heartbreaking scene leaving the audience in tears.
Two of the most outstanding performers in this show are Jim O'Brien as Friar Laurence and Wendy Overly as the nurse. Their vocal prowess with this language and their reactions to the other performers are astonishing. Jim's emotion packed lines are wonderful to listen to as he stops Romeo from killing himself and concocts the plan to make Juliet appear to be dead with a potion he gives her. Jim excels in dramatic and comic roles. Wendy's dramatic and comic lines are delivered brilliantly. She has many comic moments with Amanda while chasing her around the stage, forcing her to rub her back and a very comical one with Chuck Reifler as Peter where she constantly yells at him and hits him with her fan. The most poignant moment Wendy has is when she finds Juliet dead in her bed, her shrieks of sadness will bring tears to your eyes. Other powerful performers include Tom Gleadow as Juliet's overbearing, wealthy father, Karen Carpenter as her mother,(They do a fantastic job in the argument scene with Amanda and their emotional breakdown at the supposed death and the actual death of Juliet are astounding.) Kelby Akin as Mercutio, Romeo's friend and confidant (he has a funny drunken scene and is a hoot when he kisses Wendy and Chuck but his death scene where he says a plague on both your houses is very dramatic) and Steven Kidd as Tybalt, the hot headed Capulet who challenges Romeo to a duel after he crashes the party. Their scenes are fantastic especially their death scenes with dynamic knife play and absolutely riveting is when Steve is stabbed in the throat bleeding to death. What a show stopping and horrifying moment. Chuck Reifler is hilarious as Peter, a dimwitted servant who gets the crap beaten out of him by the nurse. His comical expressions and inability to read the guest list as Peter are topnotch. Kyle Blanchette plays the ill-fated Paris who wants to marry Juliet. and veteran actor, Sam Babbitt is the Prince of Verona who uses his strong commanding presence in this show with his powerful baritone speaking voice to demand an end to the violence, he banishes Romeo after Tybalt's death and closes the show with powerhouse lines. (Sam is an excellent actor who I had the pleasure of appearing with back in 1987 in "Shenandoah".) So for a trip back to the days of yore, be sure to catch this spectacular version of "Romeo and Juliet" as Gamm presents another outstanding show in their 25th anniversary season. This group always does topnotch shows and this is one more feather in their cap.