CSC’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a tale for our times

The cast of Commonwealth Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

BOSTON – Is Willy Shakespeare – who celebrated his 453rd birthday earlier this year – getting older and wiser?

Why is it that so many of the themes – especially the blood feud at the heart of his romantic masterwork “Romeo and Juliet” – still resonate and reverberate to this day?

We are reminded of that once again in the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” on the Boston Common through Aug. 12.

Director Allegra Libonati has professed her love for the piece in the program notes, saying that this play is her favorite written work of art, and that love has shone through in the careful crafting of this production. It hews strongly towards the original text and setting that Shakespeare described, forsaking the shift in time, place and costume common in many modern productions.

Since many of those attending may be attending a Shakespeare play for the first time – or live theater for the first time – this “Romeo” is a primer for the best of The Bard, his flowing language clearly and cleanly delivered, the costumes grand, the production values outsized but appropriate for an outdoor setting with patrons scattered over a large space.

John Zdrojeski and Gracyn Mix in “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

It is a handsome, briskly-paced production, in which the charms of the principals – Gracyn Mix as a tall and willowy Juliet, wise beyond her years, and John Zdrojeski as the love-struck Romeo – tend to be overshadowed a bit by some finely honed performances in the important supporting roles.

And while the theme of love – even tragic love – overcoming hatred in the end is ever present, Will also had other things on his mind. At a recent performance Kario Marcel as Mercutio was an audience favorite, deservedly so, lending flash, sizzle and great good humor to the role of Romeo’s friend. His death, and his dying curse – “A pox on both your houses” – will manifest itself in many ways, as he becomes the first of several victims as the Capulets and Montagues face off in the Italian city of Verona.

Or could he and Will have been talking about the present political squabbles in this bitterly-divided nation, and casting a pox on the houses of both Democrats and Republicans alike, and what the cost is ultimately to a nation still reeling from that divide?

Ramona Lisa Alexander shines in the showy role as the nurse to Juliet – a confidant, protector, a woman who has raised her and knows her as well – nay, make that better – than her own mother, Lady Capulet (Celeste Oliva).

The estimable Trinity Rep stalwart Fred Sullivan Jr. has become a welcome presence on the Common each summer and his Lord Capulet, the head of the Capulet clan, shows calm early when the Montagues, including Romeo, intrude on their banquet, only later to explode in blistering anger as Juliet, already married to Romeo, asks to be released from her father’s promise that she marry the nobleman Paris (Adam Ewer).

Celeste Oliva usually leaves a strong impression in any role, but Lady Capulet just doesn’t have enough meat on the bone to allow that.

Benvolio is in the capable hands of Brandon G. Green while Kai Tshikosi is the hot-blooded Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin who is at the heart of the violence.

And in the key role of Friar Laurence, the Franciscan priest who hypothesizes that love can end war, Enrique Mosieri is a good-hearted cleric who is a confidant and confessor to the star-crossed young lovers. Despite his best efforts to save them both from the blood lusts of their families, he is helpless to do so once events are set in motion and end tragically in the tomb of the Capulets.

Until the final moments, we are left to wonder if two families whose lives are intertwined in so many ways cannot find common ground, can love indeed stop the madness?

Julia Nolin Merat’s set takes advantage of the generous space available and is outsized in scale, making it easier for those far from the stage to follow the action, and it faithfully and skillfully recreates a square in Verona, the iconic balcony scene, and ,the tombs of the Capulets.

Jamie Rodrick’s lighting adjust to and takes advantage of the setting sun and twilight, Neil Fortin’s costumes are period perfect, and David Remedios’ sound design is both balanced and effective.

Angie Jepson’s scenes of violence are smartly staged.

A recent performance at the Parkman Bandstand on an impossibly beautiful summer evening had none of the possible pitfalls of outdoor summer theater – heat, humidity, and rain – and even the ambient background noise didn’t interfere with the players or the dialogue.

And while Artistic Director Steve Maler reminded the audience before a recent show that admission is always free, the company does have a suggested donation of $20 for those who can afford it.

Maler notes it costs $25,000 to stage each performance, and the best way to keep the Shakespeare free on the Common and accessible is to support the show in the best way you can.

The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company production of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Directed by Allegra Libionati. At the Parkman Bandstand on the Boston Common through August 6, Tuesday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. with a 3 p.m. matinee on Aug. 5. Weather updates on performance nights: 781 239-5972.