Encore Michigan

Pigeon Creek does boisterous ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Review July 15, 2019 Bridgette Redman

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.–Despite—or perhaps because of—its popularity, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is not an easy play to produce.

Everyone knows it. It’s mandatory reading in high school, and every Shakespeare company has produced it. It’s been redone as movies, books and musicals and is seeped throughout our popular culture. Everyone has its idea of what it should be and how it should be done.

So, it’s tricky to do the show knowing you won’t meet everyone’s expectations.

Pigeon Creek is no stranger to Romeo and Juliet. The last time they did it, Kat Hermes played Juliet—she’s now Friar Laurence. The two titular characters are being played by company actresses Kimi Griggs as Juliet and Sarah Stark as Romeo.

And, no, it’s not a lesbian couple. Pigeon Creek practices gender-blind casting, giving each role to the person who fits it best regardless of gender, size or other factors.

Griggs and Stark both captured the youthful passion and impatient impulsiveness of the teenage lovers. All their speeches are delivered with breathless speed, imbued with passion, two youth who barreled ahead unable to foresee the consequences of their actions. What they lack is some of the tenderness that lets the audience believe that this star-crossed duo truly is experiencing love and not just an urging of the flesh.

Kaeleb Cogswell created an interesting Benvolio, one who is a sharp contrast to the moonstruck Romeo and the sun-fired, always-raging Mercutio (Chaz Albright). Unlike most of the others around him, he shows some forethought and what it reveals to him makes him nervous and uncertain. They are strong choices that make what is often a forgettable character someone worth watching.

The Prince seems almost bored with his role, given to recitation rather than any real engagement with the character or the story.

Brienne Roper does a lovely job as she moves between such characters as Lady Capulet and the Apothecary. She brings a dignity to the role and helps to widen the generation gap that is so crucial to this production.

The role of the Nurse is always a fun one and Brooke Heintz does it justice, bubbling over in speech and action yet also able to portray fear and anxiety. She is fun to watch.

Michael Dodge has played many roles for Pigeon Creek and typically brings a mutli-layered interpretation to his roles. His Father Capulet does a lovely job as the jovial host and the old man thrust into reminisces and thoughtful reveries. On opening night, however, he failed to bring the emotional impact needed in the later scenes where he threatens Juliet and makes her feel she is backed into a corner where death is her only answer.

Director Katherine Mayberry keeps the show tight and running quickly. She brilliantly staged the dance in which Romeo and Juliet meet. Like many others before her, she uses freezes to draw focus to the actual meeting scene, but she also uses freezes before and after that scene to let the dance tell a story that supports the meeting with a beginning and a conclusion.

Pigeon Creek takes each of its shows on tour and they perform it in several locales. Mayberry ensures each of her actors speaks clearly and projects. In something I almost never say about a live production, the actors are almost too loud for the intimate space. They shout speeches that need a more tender touch. The volume is turned up so high that it is sometimes difficult to connect with the characters despite their nearness and their courage at making eye contact with the audience and talking directly with them.

Pigeon Creek always does good Shakespeare. They know the stories they are telling and make them accessible to the audience. This “Romeo and Juliet” is an excellent presentation of Bard’s most familiar tale. It’s just slightly more boisterous than always feels comfortable, even for a play that is about the impulsiveness of youth.