Romeo and Juliet Presented by Montana Shakespeare in the Parks at various locations throughout Montana and Wyoming. June 30-September 5, 2004. Directed by Shawn Douglass. Scenery by Tom Watson. Costumes by Claudia Boddy. Fight choreography by Gordon Carpenter. Dance choreography by Shari Watson. With Wesley Broulik (Prince Escalus, Peter), Jesse Weaver (Mercutio, Balthasar), Matt Foss (Montague, Paris), Braden Moran (Benvolio, Page), Rene Prince (Lady Montague, Nurse), Mark Kuntz (Romeo), James Houton (Capulet, Gregory), Lydia Berger (Lady Capulet, Apothecary), Kerry Bishe (Juliet), and Matt Brumlow (Tybalt, Friar Lawrence).
The thirty-first season of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks opened its production of Romeo and Juliet in June 2004 in traditionally professional style, with an outdoor performance that drew a crowd of about 300 loyal fans. The production witnessed by this reviewer occurred at the end of the season, on September 5, and the freshness remained despite the hundreds of miles of travel undertaken by the cast during the preceding two months. (The troupe visits rural and urban communities throughout Montana and Wyoming, performing two plays on a rotating basis at no charge to audience members. The production and travel costs are covered by donors and by Montana State University at Bozeman. Actors from across the country audition for these coveted roles and put in an incredible amount of work, doubling parts in each play and also crewing every production.)
This production of Romeo and Juliet reflected the director's wish to provide audiences with a traditional interpretation of the play, setting the scene in Renaissance Verona and dressing the cast in lavish Florentine style. The newly built stage and backdrop were designed to travel easily but also to convey a sense of both palatial and church opulence with warm woods, velvet curtains, and a fountain that became an altar, a laden feast table, Juliet's bed, and finally a stone slab for her burial. The actors themselves made the necessary set changes as they entered or left the stage, always seeming to do so effortlessly and while still in character. Smaller touches, such as garlands, buckets of flowers, and banners helped distinguish one place from another. Although the stage was small, the fight scenes and brawls were performed effectively and with a largeness that defied the restricted space.
Perhaps most impressive was the production's treatment of the play's tone. Although the play is usually performed with a change of mood following the death of Mercutio, this production made that shift with great skill and more emphasis than is common. At the beginning of the play, the quarrel between the servants and then between the Capulets and Montagues was played entirely for laughs rather than with the familiar undercurrent of tragedy. Such an opening fit well with the initial entrance of Romeo, whose doublet was awry and whose entire appearance was scruffy, making him seem like a traditional Petrarchan lover, battling his feelings for the scornful Rosaline. His woe was met with teasing and that teasing was later echoed by the Nurse, who pestered Juliet about her infancy and prevented Lady Capulet from announcing her "joyful news. …