OpenStage Theatre Provides Terrific Version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet!”

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Harper Point Photography

Kiernan Angley and Abbey Featherston shine as star-crossed lovers in retelling of classic story!

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April, 2015

The oft-told-tale of young love in Italy is given a successful new look as Verona, Italy, becomes Verona, Missouri, in OpenStage’s excellent version of “Romeo and Juliet.” The story’s location has changed, as has the time of the play. For this production the time is after the US Civil War, where families continue to feud.

Kate Austin Groen Photography

Kiernan Angley and Abbey Featherston play the young lovers whose relationship faces dreadful opposition from their families. Angley and Featherston are remarkable, and the chemistry between them is palatable! Whereas most of the angry families oppose the romance, only the kindly Parson Lawrence and the Nurse to Juliet give them any support. Jacob Offen and Judith Allen are both excellent in these supporting roles.

This is an exciting retelling of the tale, and looks great with the scenic design by Lori Rosedahl. Costumes are also wonderful, as designed by Rebecca Spafford. Ambrose Ferber is credited with fight direction. It, too, looks like every punch hits the mark! Lighting by Grant Putney is particularly effective. R. Todd Hoven, who directed this production, comes from a family line in Missouri where his ancestors found peace with neighboring families, instead of re-fighting the Civil War in their actions.

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

In his Director’s Statement, Hoven notes, “My hope is to raise awareness of those moments of intense conflict in life when we can each choose to take a breath, converse and solve and prevent the kind of regrettable escalations that our misguided and sometimes intractable characters chose and experienced.”

Shakespeare wrote the play about 1594-96, more than 400 years ago! The story has become as timeless as many of Shakespeare’s quotes from the play. Yes, we heard “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore are thou Romeo?” And “Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet sorrow. That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

The country dance sequence, choreographed by Jessica V. Freestone, where the two lovers meet is delightful – looking as if could have come from Broadway’s “Oklahoma.” The shy Juliette is just 18, and emotionally swept away by the charm of Romeo. Kiernan Angley displays enormous confidence as he dances and romances. His moves are not unlike a young Gene Kelly.

The cast is numerous and effective. Highlighting some of the supporting roles are Dan Tschirhart as Count Paris who wants to marry Juliet, Heath Howes as Benvolio, Mark Terzani as Lord Capulet and Con Woodall as Lord Montague. Finola Doyle is only 13, and makes an excellent contribution to the play as Petra.

This is a flawless production where every aspect of the show works to perfection. It is also somewhat of a “family” affair. Director Hoven is married to Jessica V. Freestone, the choreographer, and daughter of OpenStage founders. Director Hoven’s son, Kimber, is sound designer and he performs as Balthazar. The director is son-in-law to OpenStage founder Denise Burson Freestone and Bruce K. Freestone. If only every family could have such talent!

Steve Finnestead Photography
Steve Finnestead Photography

There is always risk involved when a director moves a production to a different time period, or to a different location than the original play. Everything works here in Director Hoven’s favor – and the show looks as if it was created for the post-Civil War setting, with the problems relevant then, and just as relevant now – when love crosses boundaries of social structures.

It has been several years since I have seen a production of “Romeo and Juliet,” Perhaps I have never seen it portrayed so remarkably as presented this month on the stage of the Magnolia Theater by OpenStage.

“Romeo and Juliet”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through April 25, 2015
Tickets: 970/221-6730
For more information:  www.ltix.com

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“Juno and The Paycock” – Drama at Bas Bleu Theatre

Juno-Logo-7001“Super Acting Highlights Bas Bleu’s Production of Irish Play, “Juno and The Paycock.”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 2, 2015

Wendy Ishii and John Devaney are a pair to behold as the Irish couple in Sean O’Casey’s tragedy, “Juno and he Paycock.” Wendy is the family matriarch, “Juno” whose life is falling apart with familiar problems – not the least being her drunken husband, “Captain” Jack Boyle. Boyle is played by John Devaney, whose character is failure, who feels he can do nothing to change.

Juno acquired her nickname because so many events in her life occurred in June: Her birth, meeting her husband, marriage, and giving birth to her son, Johnny – – all in June. “Paycock,” the nickname Juno gives her husband, Jack, is appropriate; as Juno claims he struts around like a “peacock” without doing anything useful!

Wendy Ishii (Juno Boyle), Eva Wright, (the Neighbour) and Kate Colby (seated, Mrs. Tancred). Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton
Wendy Ishii (Juno Boyle), Eva Wright, (the Neighbour) and Kate Colby (seated, Mrs. Tancred). Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton

When Jack Boyle receives word that a possible job may await him, he falls into his “forever” story of how badly his legs hurt – making it impossible to work. Juno is fed up with him, and is the only one in the family with any kind of income in this Irish tale of poverty in Dublin in the 1920s. Their daughter, Mary, is on strike from her job, and
demonstrating for better working conditions. Their son, Johnny, recently had an arm shot off when on maneuvers in the fight for Ireland to receive its independence. His mental and physical health are precarious, and much of his time is spent alone in his bedroom. Johnny is played by Cory Garcia, very believable in his situation. He is also suspected of alerting the warring opposition as to the whereabouts of a neighbor who is subsequently killed.

Most of Captain Boyle’s time is spent in local pubs with a drinking buddy, “Joxer” Daly, played with great aplomb by Ken Brenda. Boyle and Daly are not good for each other, as neither has any desire to make anything of his life, and doesn’t want the other to have any success, either.

Elizabeth Kirchmeier (Mary Boyle) and Troy Matthew Lescher (Jerry Devine). Photocourtesy of William A. Cotton.
Elizabeth Kirchmeier (Mary Boyle) and Troy Matthew Lescher (Jerry Devine). Photocourtesy of William A. Cotton.

Excitement comes to the family with news that the death of a cousin has resulted in the family about to receive a substantial inheritance. Everyone is delighted, and the family begins to purchase new furniture, and to receive loans from neighbors, with the idea that the inheritance will arrive soon. No one is more excited than Mary, wonderfully portrayed by Elizabeth Kirchmeier. She has been courted by Jerry Devine, another tenement dweller who is active in the labor union. Her attention quickly turns to Charles Bentham, however, a school teacher who prepared the cousin’s will. It appears that Mary and Bentham will soon “be a pair.”

The large cast is uniformly excellent, with major supporting roles played by Corbin Albaugh as Charles Bentham, Laurel Devaney as the chatter-box neighbor Maisie Madigan, and Troy Matthew Lescher as Jerry Devine.

The “stars” however are Wendy Ishii and John Devaney. They are so believable that the audience leaves the theatre, wishing to possibly give funds to the desperate Juno, and to escort her good-for-nothing husband, “Captain” Boyle out of town! Ishii and Devaney are longtime friends who have played the roles together in past productions. Ishii is especially brilliant in the earlier scenes of Juno trying to provide some sort of normalcy to the tragic family. Her despair in later scenes is powerful!

John Devaney (Captain Jack Boyle).  Seated, L-R, Laurel Devaney (Maisie Madigan) and Wendy Ishii (Juno Boyle). Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton.
John Devaney (Captain Jack Boyle). Seated, L-R, Laurel Devaney (Maisie Madigan) and Wendy Ishii (Juno Boyle). Photo courtesy of William A. Cotton.

By the end of Act Three, any hope for the family is fast-fading. No inheritance is coming, as Bentham erred in completing the will. Bentham has deserted the family, leaving Mary pregnant and unwed. Johnny is killed as retribution to the ambush which killed the neighbor. Captain Boyle continues to drink his way to destruction.

Dennis Madigan provides excellent direction to this epic of Irish sorrow, intertwined with humor. In his director’s statement of the play’s program, Madigan notes concerning the family’s despair, ”With this litany pf problems it’s a wonder we, as an audience, don’t turn to the whiskey bottle for relief.”

“Juno” is considered to be Sean O’Casey’s masterpiece. It is one of the most often-performed plays in Ireland and was first staged at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1924. It is second in what is known as O’Casey’s “Dublin Trilogy.” The first play was “The Shadow of a Gunman” (1923), and “The Plough and the Stars” completed the trilogy in 1926. I was not familiar with any of the plays. But after becoming involved with the Boyle family in “Juno,” I am eager to find out what ultimately happens to them in “The Plough and the Stars.” Maybe Bas Bleu will someday bring the tale to us!

“Juno and The Paycock”
Through May 3, 2015
Bas Bleu Theatre Company
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
For Information: Telephone: 970/498-8949
Or visit the Webb: www.basbleu.org

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