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Greatest love story comes to Notre Dame

Jonathan Retartha | Thursday, February 12, 2004

What would Valentine’s Day weekend be without the greatest love story of all time? The famous tale of two star-crossed lovers comes to Washington Hall this weekend as The Actors from the London Stage perform William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The plot is the basis for the thousands of romantic comedies and dramas that have followed it. Two families in Verona, Italy, the Montagues and Capulets, are in constant dispute. From the two families come two young children – Romeo, a Montague, and Juliet, a Capulet. The two fall in love and must hide their romance from their feuding parents. It is a tale of violence, hatred and death. But above all these things, it is a story of love’s ability to conquer all and heal the wounds of hatred.The company, comprised of Actors from the London Stage, is made up of five players who take on several different roles each. The company prides itself in using Shakespeare’s words to illuminate the tale, a ladder is the lone set piece used against the black backdrop. The ladder also doubles as a prop, and several other small items are used to delineate one role from another. The company works together in developing the production with no directors. They also take pride in involving several FTT students in the marketing and production of the play. Because of the lack of sets and props, a heavy burden is placed on the acting abilities of the players. For the most part, they deliver. Peter Lindford takes on the roles of Lord Capulet and Mercutio, one of Romeo’s friends. It is difficult to ask an actor to play both a Capulet and a Montague without causing much confusion among the audience, but Lindford plays each of the roles distinctly and effectively. As Mercutio, he is a jovial swinger who is always ready for a party and very protective of those he loves. As Lord Capulet, Lindford displays both affection for his daughter Juliet, and a concealed rage that erupts wildly whenever someone acts against his will. It would be easy for Lindford to simply choose one side for both Mercutio and Lord Capulet, but he succeeds in bringing several facets to both characters.David Acton, along with Lindford, dominates in every scene. His task as an actor is arguably the toughest, as he plays four main characters and is able to make a distinction between each. As Friar Lawrence, he provides a stern wisdom but also plays on the Friar’s role as a kind of father figure to Romeo. As Lord Montague, he provides stern anger but also patience and contemplation. As Tybalt, another Montague who swears death on Romeo, he plays a wild, anger driven maniac who possesses all of his Lord’s anger, but none of his control or wisdom. It is remarkable to watch him perfectly foil his own character in the roles of Lord Montague and Tybalt. Acton’s one shortcoming is his portrayal of Lady Capulet. Instead of playing the firm mother of Juliet and the submissive wife of Lord Capulet, Acton chooses instead to play a man who plays a woman. His femininity is overdone, and even drifts into becoming a joke with Lindford. His portrayal actually drew laughter from the audience in even the most dramatic scenes.Victoria Duarri also has the task of taking on an opposite sex role, along with playing traditional female roles. Primarily, Duarri is Juliet, the heroine of the tale. She does a beautiful job of playing the love-smitten daydreamer and the angry, desperate woman who seeks to evade her father’s wishes. In a role demanding so much because of its fame, Duarri exudes a confidence that only adds to Juliet’s transformation from a girl into a woman. As a male, she plays Benvolio, Romeo’s good friend, and displays a carefree happiness that sets her far apart from her Juliet character.Francesca Ryan primarily plays Nurse, who is the caretaker of Juliet. It appears Ryan spent too much time focusing on her main role without giving much attention to her other roles. As Nurse, she is the perfect loving mother figure to Juliet. Her chemistry with Duarri is unmistakable. However, her roles as Paris (Juliet’s suitor) and Prince (the chief lawgiver in Verona) fall terribly flat. If it were not for the yellow flower Ryan wears when she is in the role of Paris, it would be difficult to separate the two characters because they both have no distinction at all.Nevertheless, most of these shortcomings among the cast are in more minor roles, and the delivery from the actors in their main roles more than make up for the faults. The biggest disappointment lies in the play’s most important character. Chuk Iwuji is less than perfect in the role of Romeo, a part that demands perfection. He has little chemistry with Duarri, and often thinks too much and overdelivers his lines to little or no effect. He tries hard to be multifaceted, but in the process detracts from every side he has. It was hard to distinguish his happy persona from his love-stricken one, and his sadness and pain rang strangely hollow. However, he did make a strong comeback in the second half, however, and the all-important death scene turns out very powerful and impressive.Iwuji’s strong revival after the intermission was mirrored amongst all the actors, who gave everything they had for the climactic final scenes. It was truly a joy to watch the actors grow deeper and deeper into their characters as the play went on, and it provides for a big payoff at the end. Some of the most beautiful language in all of Shakespeare illuminates “Romeo and Juliet’s” simple story. People always talk about how love can never be truly explained, but Juliet’s musings about love are perhaps the only true record we have of the emotion expressed fully in words. Shakespeare’s beautiful text, along with the solid performances of the actors makes “Romeo and Juliet” a great way to spend the weekend with the one you love.

“Romeo and Juliet” plays at Washington Hall today, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.. Tickets are $12 for students, $14 for senior citizens and $16 for adults and can be purchased at the LaFortune box office.