But Soft, What Light Through Yonder Zoom Screen Breaks?
by Melissa Sites
To be an artist is to think outside the box – the box in this case being the ubiquitous Zoom screen. The Rude Mechanicals, resident at Greenbelt Arts Center (GAC), offered two live Zoom performances of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet over the week-end, directed by Claudia Bach.
The show was initially planned as a full production at GAC, but after only two weeks of rehearsal, such gatherings were banned because of quarantine. For many months, the group had hopes that a live performance might be possible, but ultimate-ly, the choice was made to use Zoom.
Each actor is performing from a separate space, and isolation became a theme of the production. Audra Jacobs, as Romeo, appears to be a teenager at home in her room.
Her emotional decisions play out against the backdrop of a poster with a night scene of a city, and a large planning white board. Although the backdrops were not designed, Jacobs gave a dreamy interpretation of Romeo’s character, and the way her plans (and those of others in the play) crumble to nothing is highlighted by the background of her room. In the talkback after the Sun-day production, several of the actors spoke about the choice to re-gender Romeo as female, and to present a posse of young women in Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio, Juliet, her Nurse and the antagonistic Tybalt. Sarah Pfanz gave an energetic and en-gaging performance as Mercutio, a brilliant person whose potential is wasted by the petty feuds of the families of Verona. Another standout performer was Wes Dennis, playing the combined role of Prince of Verona and Count Paris, whose professional appearance and office backdrop lent credence to his gentility, sincerity and soft-spoken disgust with the war-ring factions and the havoc they wreak on Verona.
Even with a play as well known as Romeo and Juliet, every production has an opportunity to unveil new understandings of the characters and the dynamics of their interactions. This time, the problems of Juliet’s parents stood out. Lady Capulet (played by Tiffany Waters) tells Juliet not to mind being married so young, for she herself was married at Juliet’s age. Waters plays the woman with a cold and forbidding air.
When Old Capulet (Joshua Engel) rages against Juliet’s desire not to marry Paris, the dynamic of isolation between the two parents comes into focus. The type of political marriage that Old Capulet envisions between his daughter and his friend is the same type of marriage that united him and his wife. Lady Capulet cannot admit that Juliet’s union with the Prince might be a bad idea at such a young age, because the exact same thing happened to her. Old Capulet is enraged by Juliet’s refusal, because in this production he has a wife and a daughter, but no love binds them together. He clearly holds the Prince in much higher esteem than he does his daughter, just as Lady Capulet seems to thirst for vengeance as she grieves Tybalt’s death much more than she sympathizes with Juliet.
Tyler Haggard as Friar Laurence and Justin Bigelow as the hapless Friar John, drive the final nails in the play’s twin coffins. Because Friar John is quarantined, Friar Laurence’s vital missive never reaches Romeo, and the two young lovers each kill themselves. Haggard brings a quiet intensity to his part, which Bigelow balances with tragic nonchalance.
The Rude Mechanicals brought passion and creative energy to their Zoom production, which can now be found on YouTube. Donations to GAC and The Rude Mechanicals are welcome at their websites. This reviewer encourages all to seek out online artistic productions until theater lovers can once again gather safely in person.