Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Hours' Traffic of Our Stage"

Mercutio lounges languidly, ankles crossed, on a blanket in the grass during Romeo and Juliet. Somehow, one can imagine that is the pose Shakespeare would take were he at Sweet Briar to watch. There is something uniquely elemental and accessible about Romeo and Juliet, as audience members experience not only the story, text, and characters but also the incredible beauty of the campus and the setting around Benedict.

Derek Arey and Kathryn Williams greeting patrons

Greeted by costumed actors near the parking area, audience members begin to be transported back to the turn of the twentieth century. The sounds of Ragtime music fill the space. Many bring picnics, blankets, pillows as they make their way toward the brick, columned front of Benedict. The volunteers at the ticket table check reservations and welcome each party cordially; they also offer extra blankets as well as insect repellent.

Drew, Krista, and Nancy greet some of the first arrivals of the evening.

The next step is claiming a parcel of space on which to settle. Some bring fast food, while others have prepared a full spread, including dessert (one group brought key lime pie).

Sarah Daggett joins a group just in time for dessert.

The sun is still a bit warm as the actors have begun to gather on blankets and chairs under trees (Capulets on one side of the walkway, Montagues on the other, of course), and, in some way, the picture of cast and audience together is reminiscent of lazy summer days in the past.

Audience members getting comfortable before the show's beginning scene.

As the performance begins, the plates and food are forgotten, and the story captures the attention of the audience immediately with the Capulet/Montague challenge scene, not only because the fight itself, carefully choreographed by Geoff and Michael, is entertaining to watch, but because the action is close. As the play continues, Mercutio and Romeo, particularly, merge into the audience space, intermingling or teasing audience members. One evening, the duel between Tybalt and Romeo prompted a father to cup his hands over his daughters' ears, to warn them about the coming shot, since they were sitting at the front, close to the scene.

Romeo, played by Michael Stablein, shares a blanket with a young audience member as he intently watches Juliet dance.

Intermission arrives, and patrons relax, refill, refresh, and sample wares provided by a local service club - sometimes homemade cookies, cups of fruit as well as beverages. No meat pies, but the traditional orange is available - Shakespeare would be pleased.

The lamps beside the sidewalk and around Benedict begin to ease on, just as the daylight is fading. The moon is also beginning to appear, and people begin to pull on light jackets as the coolness sets in. The dark and cool set the mood for the final scene of Romeo and Juliet - just as director Bill Kershner envisioned it would. The torches lining the sidewalk complete the picture, and as the play ends with the circle around Romeo and Juliet, no one stirs for several moments, even as the characters begin to move toward the curtain call. There is something sacred about the quiet, and not being quite ready to disturb the moment with applause.
Shakespeare would be pleased with that, too.

Playgoers greet performers, pack their blankets and chairs, and make their way gradually back to the parking lot and to the present - after several hours' "traffic of our stage."

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