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Love Is a Battlefield: "Romeo & Juliet," at Lincoln Park through July 27 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 23 July 2008 02:25

Andy Koski and Aisha Ragheb in Romeo and Juliet I didn't think there was much wrong with Sunday night's presentation of Genesius Guild's Romeo & Juliet, aside from the fact that I didn't feel much of anything at it. But in terms of this particular Shakespeare play, isn't that a pretty sizable issue?


It's not that there wasn't plenty of fine work on display. The production featured many topnotch performances, Aaron Sullivan (who also played Benvolio) choreographed continually impressive swordplay, and Mike King (who also played Mercutio) designed a rather extraordinary set for director Barbara Carroll's endeavor; a two-story structure with a pair of staircases that extended beyond the traditional playing area, it made the Lincoln Park stage imposingly, appropriately majestic. (Ellen Dixon's costumes, too, were exquisite, but the designer's work is so consistently outstanding that I'm reasonably sure she could turn gunnysacks into haute couture.)

All throughout the evening, though, I kept thinking that while the stage was filled with talents, few of them appeared to be acting in the same show. There's so little connection between the disparate performance styles here that the production oftentimes exudes a lurching, stop-and-start quality, and never develops the rhythm or momentum needed to make the Bard's tragic romance truly resonate for those of us (which I'm assuming is most of us) who know its story by heart. I found myself admiring the show on a scene-by-scene basis, yet when the production ended after two and three-quarter hours, the experience was all too easy to shake off.

This was all the more surprising considering just how marvelous so many of its portrayals were. Before attending Genesius Guild's latest, I'd never thought of the character of Lord Capulet as one of the greats in the Shakespeare canon, but man, did Pat Flaherty turn me around on that one. The actor's vitriol towards Juliet (Aisha Ragheb), demanding her obedience in marrying Paris (Neil Friberg), was filled with such bottomless rage that, for a moment, the Bard's play seemed to be Capulet's tragedy more than anyone's. The actor's stirring work was worthy of Lear.

Flaherty's passion was nearly matched by that of Jonathan Gregoire, whose incensed Tybalt was particularly fine during his duels with Mercutio and Romeo (Andy Koski); taunting and goading his adversaries with heedless abandon, Gregoire delivered an intensely physical performance. (He and Flaherty are perfectly believable as relatives; when their anger hits a boiling point, both of their voices crack and shoot off into the ether.) And King, to the shock of no one who attends Genesius Guild with any regularity, brought considerable vigor and cleverness to his Mercutio. Despite sporting a jet-black wig, he isn't exactly age-appropriate for the role, but King did a terrific job of disguising that fact, and his comic spirit was as welcome as ever. (At one point, he exits by leaping on Sullivan and allowing the much-taller actor to piggyback him off the stage.)

Mike King and Aaron Sullivan in Romeo and Juliet The tangible energy of these performers, though, was a marked contrast to the close-to-the-vest underplaying of Koski and Sullivan, who were also quite good, yet who seemed to be acting in a different Romeo & Juliet altogether. Whereas Flaherty, Gregoire, and King gave robustly externalized portrayals, Koski and Sullivan gave thoughtful and internal ones, and appeared as relaxed as their co-stars were excitable. In truth, they may have been a bit too relaxed, as understanding many of their low-key deliveries - particularly in the first act - required a great deal of concentrated listening. But their stage confidence was always inspiring, and Koski played Romeo's later romantic anguish with earnestness and honesty.

Thankfully, these were also two qualities shared by Ragheb's Juliet. A controlled and effervescent presence who took to Shakespearean verse with ease - the actress' balcony soliloquy was delivered with lovely, unforced sincerity - she also had a lower, richer voice than her youthful prettiness would suggest; Ragheb's Juliet, even in her misery, always sounded sensible.

I wish I could say that Romeo & Juliet's central love affair was as credible as Romeo and Juliet themselves. But unfortunately, the performers generated little in the way of romantic chemistry, which seemed less due to their age difference (Ragheb is more than 10 years Koski's junior) than their different styles - during the duo's romantic encounters, Koski appeared intent, and Ragheb appeared enraptured, and sadly, the actors never quite meshed.

Romeo & Juliet's other portrayals were similarly, distractingly diversified: Friberg's Paris was shrewd and subtle; Bob Hanske's Friar Laurence and Faith Hardacre's Lady Capulet were engagingly emotional; and Patti Flaherty's Nurse was so wildly over-the-top - shrieking and popping her eyes and toddling on and off stage - that she could pass as the leading character in a braying Shakespeare sitcom for Fox. There are more than enough individual reasons to catch this latest Genesius Guild offering, but with so little performance continuity on display, they remain individual reasons; it's the rare case of a theatrical whole being less than the sum of its parts.

 

For more information, visit (http://www.genesius.org).

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written by theaterbug, July 23, 2008
what's wrong with the women in this play? I was there sunday at the production and I thought the women were wonderful and the men were hard to hear. does the reviewer have a thing for guys?
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written by actor, July 23, 2008
Ummm, Theaterbug, the review is going to talk more about men than women, since there are really only 2 or 3 major female roles in R&J: Juliet, the Nurse, and Lady Capulet. All three of those are mentioned in this review. There are many more major male roles: Romeo, Benvolio, Mercutio, Tybalt, Lord Capulet, Paris, the Prince, and Friar Laurence. All of these except for the Prince are mentioned in this review.
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written by another actor, July 24, 2008
Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmactor: There may be quite a few codpieces to fill when it comes to Shakespeare, but that doesn't take away from a sort of favoritism.

I also attended the show and I find it a little interesting that the mercutio was found to have "vigor" and the nurse seemingly "over-the-top". I believe that these two terms the reviewer coined can be interchangeable. Both of these characters on Sunday night displayed a whole array of great humor. Of course- people are entitled to their opinions (including a reviewer himself) and in this case, it’s a matter of one’s sense of humor.
Post script: Yes theaterbug, mike schulz is gay
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written by theaterbug, July 24, 2008
actor and another actor - i don't care if the reviewer is straight, gay or into warthogs, my contention is that on sunday at the show, the women were good, the men hard to hear (except mercutio and the dad) and when i read the review, it seemed that the men were given a break and the women were not.
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written by Lou Hare, July 24, 2008
Theatrebug,

Maybe Mike could hear them just fine from where he was sitting. That's the funny thing with Lincoln Park, if the wind is blowing a certain direction it can really affect volume. For what it's worth, I was at the Saturday night performance and heard anything loud and clear (until the friend I brought with me got sick and had to leave that is).

As for the show, the person Mike really gives a break to is the director. Isn't it their job to get the actors in the same world and to try to infuse the actors with the kind of passion the piece demands? And I believe that the director of this show is a woman, so what say you about this omission? Is that bias for or against women?
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written by Casey B, July 24, 2008
Post script? Post script? Hardly.

I consider Mike one of my best friends and he has never denied who he is. He is, without a doubt, one of the most genuine wonderful people I know.

For you 'Another actor' to feel the need to comment on the reviewer's sexuality shows lack of character and judgement. While it is your right, it is in no way classy, considerate or responsible on your part to do so.

As mentioned prior, Mike never hides who he is. There was no need to bring his personal life to publication. I'm sure you meant no harm, but come on, think about it. Mike does not in any way bring his sexuality into his reviews and for you to do it for him was rude and unnecessary.
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written by theaterbug, July 24, 2008
louhare - you're right, the reviewer did give the director a break, too. it seems the only people he didn't give a break to were juliet, nurse and juliet's mom. i thought for a person who never did shakespere before and was so young, the juliet was so good. i thought the nurse was hilarious. i thought the mom was graceful and elegant. again, these are just my random thoughts.
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written by Morgan, July 24, 2008
Theaterbug, while I applaud Ragheb's Juliet, I would not say she was 'so' good. Good, yes. But not stellar. She is wet behind the ears. She greatly improved from her audition & has a lot of promise. But giving the role to someone who has NEVER done Shakespeare is suicide.

Koski knows the language well because of his years with Genesius & Prenzie Players. The same with Sullivan. But a role like Juliet should be given to someone who understands what the character is saying--that 'wherefore' means 'why' & not 'where are you?'

Like I said, Ragheb was good. Hopefully we will see more of her in future productions.
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written by Another other actor, July 24, 2008
Morgan-

Koski and Sullivan? Is someone a little Prenzie biased? They aren't the only ones out there who have extensive Shakespearience. I, personally, thought that Koski and Sullivan had a lot of trouble adapting (or re-adapting) their "Prenzie" style of acting to the Genesius Guild stage.
I also thought that, especially for her first Shakespeare role, Ragheb played Juliet very well, and made her character much more believable than in many other productions I have seen.
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written by theaterbug, July 24, 2008
now that you mention it, why was the reviewer so mean to the nurse - she was really good and funny and he said some nasty things. not to say he can't criticize, but why bring Fox sitcoms and braying and stuff like that into it? especially when she was funny. And other actor, i think you are right about juliet, she was a keeper.
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written by Molly, July 24, 2008
Another other actor, I am probably the most anti-Prenzie person here. I do not want to drag them into this. Sullivan & Koski have the experience & probably know more about the language than most of the cast. I never said they were the finest Shakespearean actors out there. But they do know their stuff.

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written by Molly, July 24, 2008
Oh shoot. I did not mean anti-Prenzie, I was thinking about what Morgan said. I am sorry for saying that. I meant that to say that I can be biased when it comes to the Prenzies. They are friends of mine. If anything, I am anti-anti-Prenzie. I apologize for the confusion. :)
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written by Pearlie, July 24, 2008
Lol. Nice cover, Molly. It is true, she is not the Prenzie-hater. Did you all miss me? I have returned & am looking forward to seeing this production Saturday night. I am sure it will be fun. ;D
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written by Morgan, July 24, 2008
Pearlie, as another one in your camp, I can say that this production is actually pretty good. I was pleased with the final result. And Molly--don't worry. You can take the hit for us. I won't mind a bit. :)
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written by theaterbug, July 24, 2008
molly, pearlie, other actor, et al.: i don't know the ins and outs of the theater groups here but i also wanted to point out that the play in lincoln park was FREE and other groups charge money and yet the quality was as good or better than the ones i've had to pay for - does anyone ever mention that?
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written by Lou Hare, July 24, 2008
That's because many of the people that perform with Genesius Guild also perform with other companies. The reason GG is free is partly because of government funding (I think they're the only local group to get funding, but I could be wrong)and partly because they don't have to pay rights on their shows.
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written by Molly, July 24, 2008
That is an excellent point Theaterbug! Thank you for mentioning that. I always joke at Guild that 'you get what you pay for.' I am glad that we can still bring quality entertainment for no fee at all.

Again, thank you.
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written by theaterbug, July 24, 2008
molly and louhare - you're welcome, molly. it's nice to see a show for free that is good and quality, especially with my wallet nowadays. louhare - i didn't know that the park play was funded by the government. once again, tho, why was reviewer so mean to the nurse and not very nice to juliet and her mom? i was embarrased for them.
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written by Patti, July 24, 2008
Who are all you people? I think I know you, Molly and you, Lou - Hey, long time no see!! Anyway, I'm the one that got the crappy review and I NEVER believe reviews, good or bad. Notice that last year, my excrement didn't exude odor at all according to Mike Schulz and this year, apparently, I stink on ice. But please, no more discussion!! Come and see and judge for yourself! Like Molly says - You get what you pay for!!! :D Up with theater in the Q-C's!!!! Patti Flaherty
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written by Molly, July 24, 2008
Hi Patti! I will see you Saturday. I bet you'll be great--you always are. :D
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written by Fiona, July 24, 2008
I just wonder why no one is creeped out by the fact that Romeo is 20 years older than Juliet?
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written by Allison Collins Elfline, July 24, 2008
Lou-
You are correct, GG is a non-profit group. There are many other companies in town who are also non-profit organizations and receive funding from local/governmental granting committees, which include Prenzie, New Ground Theatre, and my very own Riverbend Theatre Collective.

I don't know about all this discussion except to say that I am excited to see my friends perform in this show on Sunday. Break legs, my dears.
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written by Allison Collins Elfline, July 24, 2008
Oh and, Fiona? Andy Koski is 10 years older than Aisha. Not 20.
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written by Tyson Danner, July 25, 2008
Gays? In theatre?! Say it isn't so!

I'm pretty sure (though I'm not postive) nearly all the local theatre companies do receive grant money.

I'm not sure what it says about the value our society places on art, when it needs support through tax dollars instead of ticket sales, but thank god for those tax dollars! Otherwise we'd be seeing a lot fewer productions here and everywhere in the country!

But there are also theatres in the area that do quite well without grant money, the most obvious example being Circa.
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written by Lou Hare, July 25, 2008
I didn't know so many local theatres received funds. You learn something new every day! I think it is the prevailing value our society puts on entertainment that hurts art. Of course, as we know, great theatre is both entertaining and artistic, but it seems that the general public doesn't see it that way.
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written by Jennifer Kingry, July 26, 2008
Just a further note on the "government-funded" issue: having not-for-profit status enables groups to apply for certain government grants. Not all groups apply for them. Of those that do, not all applications are awarded grants. Of some I know who've had grants awarded, most have seen those grants cut in half one year and in half again the next year. My point being, government grants will never keep the arts alive without a paying audience (or benefactors willing to kick in.) Welcome to America, folks!
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written by rubynancy, October 08, 2008
Perhaps I am a bit Bi-ased, but I've always thought that -- just as I do -- Mike appreciates the charms and vigor and rants of all performers, regardless of gender.

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