June 07, 2007; Delacorte Theater; Romeo and Juliet


(Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

2007's Shakespeare In the Park series began with Romeo and Juliet, a sure crowd-pleaser. Primary attention fell on the bizarre set, the title characters, the Nurse, and Friar Lawrence. Other characters fell into the background, including the Mercutio of Christopher Evan Welch, who did not act with sufficient panache.

Lauren Ambrose was a radient Juliet. She looked young enough but was a fine actor and carried off her part brilliantly. Oscar Isaac was equally strong as Romeo. His youthful impetuousness was displayed with athleticism as well as strong characterization.

Familiar television actress, Camryn Manheim, gave to the Nurse the baudy spice that Shakespeare had written into the role. On the down side, Austin Pendelton was a very weak Lawrence. This was an early preview so I'm sure he will eventually memorize his lines, but at this performance he was not at his best.

The set is pictured. What is not shown are the ways in which it can be rotated and manipulated and broken apart to create a wide variety of environments for the action. The circular walkway can also rotate. All this flexibility comes at a cost of noise and action by black-garbed "stage hands"; since nearly all the set manipulations occur during action there is a serious disruption in attention. Further, there is the constant fear that "something" will go wrong and the action will have to stop while the stage hands work to make the next set change. It is likely that the set transitions will become more and more swift, silent, and effortless as time goes on, so my fears at this early preview may be poorly founded.

An aspect of the design not clearly obvious from the photograph is the inch or two of water residing in the round black circle holding the set. The action is often in that splash pool, including, for example, the tomb scene. As Romeo enters the tomb he takes a big step down into water and walks over to Juliet's tomb. There is an air of unreality at such moments when the set designer must be daring our ability to suspend our disbelief.

When the three and a quarter hours were done, however, it was the conclusion of a beautifully told tale that will delight everyone.