ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Director Peter Shea Kierst, whose production of “Hamlet” at the Vortex was a theatrical highpoint last year, is directing Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” at the Albuquerque Little Theater. Given ALT’s large auditorium and proscenium (“picture-frame”) stage, “Romeo and Juliet” cannot have the intimacy and impact that “Hamlet” had on the small audience that surrounded the Vortex stage. But comparisons are invidious; Kierst’s thoughtful and visionary “R&J” offers a great deal.
This immortal treatment of new and powerful love thwarted by what Friar Lawrence describes as “a greater power than we can contradict” is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, and the 1930s, the 1960s, and the 1990s have produced popular feature films of the play. Therefore, many come to the play with images and expectations. This production, however, is new in many ways. Instead of the realism usually featured at ALT, designer Valaria Rios has transformed Kierst’s vision for the set into two ascending groups of circular steps and platforms that provide a variety of levels. Gauzy drapes hang intermittently on the back wall—catching and intensifying Andrew McHarney’s lighting design. Erin Moots and Teddy Eggleston designed costumes in varying shades and combinations of black, white, and gray until the final scene where red predominates. The stage tableau is always interesting. Kierst has cut the text to come close to the Prologue’s prediction of “the two hours’ traffic of our stage” (a line that was cut). The action moves swiftly as the first half of the play resembles a romantic comedy and the second half shifts to tragedy.
There is some fine acting in this production. Teri Sweeney’s interpretation of the Nurse is bawdy and blunt and full of energy. A wonderful role well performed. Samuel McClure Taylor is also lively and engaging as Mercutio. His “Queen Mab” speech drew spontaneous applause. But Shakespeare removes both of these characters as the play moves toward its inexorable fatal conclusion, and we miss them. Alan Hudson enacts a stalwart Friar Lawrence whose good intentions pave a road to perdition. William Lang gives Lord Capulet authority. The “pair of star-crossed lovers” is, of course, at the center of the play. Handsome Daniel T. Cornish certainly looks the role of Romeo, and his interpretation is understated and subtle. Although I looked for more distinction between the callow, self-absorbed Romeo who “makes himself an artificial night” to moon over Roseline at the play’s beginning and the Romeo who kills himself for love in the Capulet monument, Cornish conveys almost palpable joy in the charming balcony and wedding scenes. High school junior Caitlin Aase presents a fresh and compelling Juliet. Her pretty features are delicate, but her voice is strong and her emotions powerful. She is one of the best Juliets I have seen on stage.
You will fall in love with Juliet all over again at ALT.
If You Go
WHAT: “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare
WHEN: Fridays, Saturdays, and Thursday (February 8) at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through February 18
WHERE: Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW
HOW MUCH: $22 general public, $20 seniors and $18 students. Call 242-4750 for ticket information