It's the Italian Renaissance version of a fistfight. With a clatter of clashing swords, Hayden Ezzy as Mercutio and Ryan Noufer as Tybalt duke it out onstage, circling each other with ferocious energy.
From the sidelines of the Seabury Hall Performing Arts Studio, Daniel Vicars coaches their swordplay: "Wider moves, guys! Get those back arms up, sternums up. Now, let's see the stab again!"
Tybalt obliges with a thrust of the dagger, and Mercutio staggers back. "A plague a both your houses!" he groans.
ERIC ROLPH photo
Nick Wright is Romeo and Deni Harrelson is Juliet in William Shakespeare’s classic love story.
ERIC ROLPH photo
At left Romeo crosses swords with Tybalt (Ryan Noufer).
"What, art thou hurt?" Nick Wright as Romeo cries, rushing to his friend's aid.
"Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch. Marry, 'tis enough " Mercutio gasps.
"Lean on him, Mercutio, you're really hurt!" director Cassandra Wormser calls from her vantage point in the front row.
It's a Friday night at Seabury Hall, and the actors are rehearsing one of three sword fighting scenes in the upcoming production of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." The tragic romance will be set outdoors under the stars in the Cooper House Courtyard - a venue that hasn't been showcased since 1994 (when Seabury alum Wormser took the stage in "Falstaff's Jumbo Shrimp Circus").
The lovely courtyard is well suited for the play, with vine-draped archways and even an upper lanai for Deni Harrelson as Juliet in the famous balcony scene. Audience seating will be on chairs on three sets of risers around the action.
"Shakespeare was a writer for the people," Wormser says. "All artists have to satisfy their audience."
That's why Wormser is doing her best to keep the length at just "two hours' traffic of our stage," as described in the Prologue. At times, that task has required what she calls some "swift cutting," as evidenced by her heavily marked-up script. "I treat it as raw material because I feel that's the way to be true to the spirit of it," she explains. "Time has passed, our tastes are different and to craft that kind of accessible and enjoyable experience, it involves grappling with the text."
Of course, Wormser is always careful to maintain the meter and the rhythm of the language. As one of Maui's most prolific Shakespeare performers, she starred in a number of the Bard's productions with Studio H'Poko, and most recently directed the stunning "Othello" at Steppingstone Theater.
Written over 400 years ago, "Romeo and Juliet" is still able to captivate and hold the attention of not only the theater-going public, but also some of the entertainment world's toughest critics: high school students.
"I've really enjoyed seeing them make sense of the language," Wormser says. "The humor emerged quickly -they got that right away! As serious as (the play) is and as intense as their love is, the absurdity is an interesting facet. The tragedy and intensity is balanced with this earthy, bawdy humor."
Coaching them onstage, Wormser encourages the cast of 20 young actors to find their own voices in the material, not just to strive for an "affect." "I don't think it serves these pieces to put them on a pedestal," she says.
In the meantime, fight choreographer Vicars (a chiropractor who demonstrated his swashbuckling swordplay as a crew member in the 2003 Russell Crowe movie, "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World") is just trying to keep the young duelists from accidentally piercing or being pierced.
"Don't hurt anybody while I'm not looking," he tells them. "When I'm looking, you can kill each other."
At his direction, Mercutio and Tybalt return to their starting places and begin the scene again. "Come, sir, your passado!" Mercutio cries.
And so the timeless and spellbinding unfolding of Shakespeare's story is crafted anew - on a new stage, in a new time, no doubt just as Shakespeare intended.
* "Romeo and Juliet" opens Friday, Oct. 9, and runs two weekends through Oct. 18: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 5 p.m. Tickets are $11 for adults, $9 for senior citizens, $5 for students. Seating is limited, and audience members are advised to dress warmly. For reservations and more information, call 573-1257.
As part of tomorrow night's First Friday festivities in Wailuku, Maui OnStage presents a free keiki performance of Ichabod Crane and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" at 6 p.m. The event is the kickoff of "Rocktober at the Iao Theater: A Month of Horror and Fun," which will culminate in the famous Haunted Theater just before Halloween (volunteers are still needed in various ghostly functions). At 8 p.m. Friday, doors open for a free screening of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (under 17 not admitted), beginning at 9 p.m. Costumes are welcome. The evening also features an appearance by the MOS Performance Dance class and themed body painting by artiste extraordinaire Rachel DeBoer of Fabulous Faces. For more information, call 242-6969 or visit www.mauionstage.com.
Heart Tours will give a free performance of "Crossroads" at 11 a.m. Saturday at center stage at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. In this tale of two bumbling pirates and their talking parrot, Crackers, the keiki get to become part of the pirate crew as they help Quagmire and Snags to choose the best course on their mysterious treasure map. Best of all, they learn about the value of teamwork and making good choices along life's journey. The children's educational theater company founded by Tom Althouse aims to entertain and inspire children of all ages. For more information, visit www.heart-tours.com.
A full house at The Studio Maui in Haiku grooved to the devotional tunes of singer Donna De Lory last weekend. On Saturday night, the Sweat Your Prayers/5 Rhythms crowd was transported by her sublime singing, dancing to lyrics like "Om Namah Shivaya" for hours on end. Seems like the petite chanter and former longtime backup singer for Madonna has definitely found her niche on the Valley Isle, and we hope she returns every year!