It was a star-studded opening night for a tale of two star-crossed lovers. The Upcountry stars were so bright overhead, they drew our gaze upward when the lights went down for the opening act. Two of Maui's own resident stars, Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson, were in attendance. But the stars that shone the brightest were director Cassandra Wormser and her Seabury Hall cast and crew for pulling together a remarkable production of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" in just five weeks.
Seated on risers around a small gold-painted stage tucked into the Cooper House Courtyard, the audience enjoyed an intimate view of the action. The actors made use of entrances and exits at all four corners as well as two small platforms between the risers, so that we felt like citizens of Verona ourselves, lounging in that hot town square and watching events unfold.
Nick Wright and Deni Harrelson made their debuts in the lead roles, and the two were a perfect Romeo and Juliet, brimming with all the youthful passion, courage and idealism of young love.
Nick Wright and Deni Harrelson shine in the title roles.
ERIC ROLPH photo
The ball scene where the two met was beautifully staged, with the guests in jewel-colored cloaks and gowns moving through the intricate patterns of Renaissance dance, feathered masks adding an element of mystery. Juliet shone like an angel in a white-and-gold gown, leading Romeo to exclaim, "Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!"
In the balcony scene, Wright nimbly ascended a vine-entwined ladder to reach his love. The chemistry between the two was so obvious that, like the good Friar Lawrence (Skyla Lowery), we would be afraid to leave the two alone "till Holy Church incorporate two in one"!
For the first half of the play, the actors kept us chuckling at Shakespeare's brilliant innuendo and bawdy humor. Hayden Ezzy, especially, was marvelous as Mercutio, bringing bold energy and wit to lines like, "I conjure thee by Rosaline's bright eyes By her fine foot, straight leg, and quivering thigh." His "Queen Mab" speech was worthy of a Shakespeare competition.
Chara'e Tongg played Juliet's chatty Nurse with appealing humor, and Kendall Umetsu was the much put-upon servant, Peter.
The sword fighting scenes, choreographed and coached by Daniel Vicars, were impressive for their controlled footwork on a limited surface area. Any foibles were covered with flair and resourcefulness.
Swept along by the fast-paced action and comedy, we were jolted back to tragic reality with Mercutio's death at the end of the first half. Wright tapped into fierce anger as his Romeo confronted the villainous Tybalt (Jack Webber). "Alive in triumph, and Mercutio slain? ... Fire-eyed fury be my conduct now!"
The duel between Romeo and Tybalt was the most thrilling in the play. They circled and skirmished with swords and daggers, tumbling and tearing off hats and cloaks. Dressed in pirate-like black and purple, Webber deserved a gold star for stepping into his daunting role just five days before showtime.
From the balcony above the square where the dead men sprawled, Prince Escalus (Max Kapua) pronounced his sentence: worse than death for Romeo - he was "banished."
With the shift in mood from comedy to tragedy, some of the energy seemed to go out of the acting. The scene-to-scene transitions dragged a bit, and the use of voiceovers on a darkened stage created a strange, disembodied effect.
Although the young actors may not have plumbed the depths of tragedy as well as they mined the veins of comedy, there were fine moments - Friar Lawrence's soothing counsel to the wild-eyed Romeo; the Capulets' high-handed confrontation with their unhappy daughter; and Juliet's deliciously fearful agony before drinking the Friar's sleeping potion ("O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught And madly play with my forefathers' joints, And pluck the mangled Tybalt from his shroud").
The Italian Renaissance costumes by Vanessa Cerrito were thick and sumptuous - every man with a cloak thrown over his shoulder and a sword swaggering by his side; every woman in a laced bodice, full skirt and headpiece.
Kai Spence was an appropriately ponderous Lord Capulet in a heavy plumed hat and lace collar, and Tatiana Bradley was coldly elegant as Lady Capulet in flowing maroon robes with pearls coiled about her neck. The play also featured Zowie Haugaard as Benvolio; Miles Kelsey as County Paris; Kyla Greenwell as Balthasar; Sydney Roberts as Lady Montague; Juliana Warne as Gregory; Gregory Gagliardi as Sampson and the Apothecary; and Lauren Clark, Anneka Johnston and Kayla Shephard as Chorus. Todd Van Amburgh designed the set and lighting, and Mirabel Bradley served as assistant director and stage manager.
As the two ill-fated lovers finally collapsed on their deathbed in the tomb, the stars shone brightly high above us - a silent reminder that love is as old as the heavens, and will remain long after we are gone.
* Due to full houses and a rainout last Sunday, Seabury is extending the run of "Romeo and Juliet" through Oct. 25. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and 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.