Portland’s Deering Oaks undoubtedly has provided refuge to its share of “star-crossed lovers” over the years. But most victims of such “unhappy fortune” have walked away with only emotional scars.
The famous pair of young lovers imagined by Shakespeare were not so lucky. “Romeo & Juliet,” the latest production by the Fenix Theatre Company to be mounted in the park, tells their sad tale once again.
The costumes are contemporary casual, no doubt a blessing for the cast in the 90-degree weather Friday night. And the body language of the brief dance and fight segments feels more recent, too. But the words, with a bit of editing that cut the performance to 90 minutes, are from the original text.
Staged around the park’s wading pool — where remarkably polite little kids played quietly between the action scenes that most grabbed their attention — the play unfolded with a nice sense of energy and movement. The waves of joy, anger and sadness that rose swept both players and audience along.
Karin Baard and Nate Houran took the lead roles. Baard, on the high end of the usual age range for Juliet, was still able to capture the feel of the precocious adolescent who understands and expresses her passion without being totally consumed by it (at least for a while).
Houran’s take on Romeo got at the lovesick puppy whose maturation comes at a terrible cost. His voice seemed a little strained at times but, whether intentional or not, it played into Romeo’s consuming fervor.
There was talk at one time of this company obtaining some amplification to better compete with passing air traffic and occasional sirens in nearby streets. Still, lines were mostly audible and a sound system’s likely cost makes it an ongoing issue for a troupe heavily reliant on donations.
Many of the secondary roles in this work offer chances for some theatrical fireworks. Peter Brown as Lord Capulet and Ian Alan Carlsen as Mercutio were more than up to the task. Maureen Butler as Juliet’s feisty Nurse and Matt Delamater as tough-guy Tybalt also had fine moments on Friday, as did Karen Ball as Lady Capulet and David Butler as Friar Laurence.
Despite a somewhat odd choice in locating the final death scene out of view from much of the audience, Director Rob Cameron and his talented cast and crew have succeeded in making this famous tragedy once again resonate.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.