A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW BY DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
On Saturday February 23, 2020, the Bard’s Romeo and Juliet was staged at Jacksonville Beach’s Players by the Sea Theatre, and played to an appreciative almost full house. The play, first mounted in the late 1500’s, is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known and most- produced plays. The production at Players included a twist: an all-female cast. So how did they get to Players, and why an all-female cast?
Tyler Lewis’s Self-Produced Theatre initially planned to stage the play in a venue in Springfield, but regrettably lost its space. Players by the Sea then offered its main stage for a Saturday performance. Several people were involved in making the arrangements: Tyler Lewis, Director Amy Channing Love, Assistant Director Ashley Jones, and Players staff. The cast and crew members very much appreciated the performance opportunity after their many long past rehearsals.
And why not an all-female cast? After all, Shakespeare’s original plays and those of his contemporaries had all-male casts because women were banned from the English stage until 1660. And his works have been performed in endless versions, which have included setting the action in different cities (New York, Bombay…) and eras (the 1960’s, the present day, the distant future …) – well, you get the idea.
The production at Players follows the original, as it tells the tragic story of two young lovers and their opposing families, the Montagues and Capulets, who live in Verona during the Renaissance. Romeo is portrayed by Erica Villanueva, who has appeared in the Short Attendance Span Theatre Festival at The 5 & Dime Theatre and in a YouTube special entitled Hope. Juliet is portrayed by Kristen Walsh who is very active in theatre, with a recent appearance in The Crucible. The two teenagers fall deeply and deliriously in love, but must conceal this from their families. You know the ending of course: they marry but both commit suicide.
The cast of fifteen portray their characters skillfully, and use the swords provided in believable ways; we found ourselves double-checking at times to make sure no one was really injured in the fight scenes.
Costume designer Lisa Fleming dressed the cast for the most part in simple costumes which allowed free movement on the stage. The set was minimalistic; with furnishings limited to stairs and benches. The most stately figure was the Princess of Verona, portrayed by Toni Philips. The most humorous character was the Nurse, portrayed by Harolyn Sharpe. The play was a family affair in part: Erin Barnes appeared as Lady Capulet while Clara, her young daughter, appeared as Romeo’s servant Balthasar.
Other cast members included Virginia Mills-Barford (Lord Montague), Rhodie Jackson (Lord Capulet), Felecia Ewing (Lady Montague), Amanda Stein (Benvolio), Harlow (Abram), Jennifer Barrett (Peter), Audrey Antce (Tybalt), Julia Fallon (Sampson), Arelis Resto(Gregory), Victoria Pregent Rosaline), Anne Karch (Paris/Sister John), (Daaryl Wilson (Page), Erin Searcy (Prioress Laurence), Kate Busselle (Mercutio), Jennifer Barrett (Apothecary), and Victoria Pregent (Officer).
The production crew included: Amy Canning Love and Ashley Jones (Directors); Jereme Raickett (Production Manager); Christine Elizabeth Flint (Stage Manager); Dr. Kate Busselle (Violence & Intimacy Designer); Ben Sparenberg (Lighting Designer); Destiny Golden (Audio Engineer); Abbie Turley and Angelic Pregent (Tech Crew).
The lobby was filled with colorful abstract art by Laura Dill and the items on display will remain at Players during the next show, which is Two Trains Running by August Wilson (March 13 – 29). The theatre is located at 106 6th Street North in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. For reservations or additional information call 904-249-0289 or visit playersbythesea. org.