BY KRISTIE DARLING
Theatre in the manner of Shakespeare in the Park has always been a favorite of mine, and over the years I’ve had the pleasure to see many productions, from Central Park to Washington’s Tanglewood. The Historic Sharpe House’s Romeo and Juliet immediately rose to the top of my list of favorites. And not just because this production was the premiere performance by our town’s newest theatre enterprise. Not just because seasoned community theatre champions and talents captured Producer Keith Rhyne’s vision of theatre under the stars perfectly — or because Romeo and Juliet is my favorite, but because this Romeo and Juliet was extraordinarily presented with passion, creativity, and technical pizzazz! Brava!
Rhyne’s vision was to reset Shakespeare’s enduring love story in alignment with Sharpe House’s Historic Players’ 1920s-era theme. He set his Romeo and Juliet at a 1920s lawn party — think Jay Gatsby and friends. The full-moon, under-the-stars stage was stunningly created for the party, for the chapel scenes, with Juliet’s balcony prominently designed, and for the final act, a surprising scene in the Capulet family tomb. In a gloomy, shimmering light, cast behind a larger-than-life ethereal curtain, Harrison Hayes and Isabelle Irwin, as the star-crossed lovers, played the final death scene as it should be — as a devastating farewell that gave me goosebumps.
The actors were cast perfectly for their roles; some favorites of mine were Friar Lawrence played by Jim Scruggs; Romeo’s cousin, Benvolio, played by Brad Thomas; and Juliet’s nurse, played by Autumn Hill. Coley Johnson’s Mercutio and Jaiden Campbell’s Tybalt were very well performed. The cast of Verona’s two most famous families, with parents, offspring, cousins, friends, servants, citizens, guards, and musicians, presented their story in a 20th century setting, all the while speaking Shakespeare’s lyrical, original words. It was an inspired rendition.
Costumes by Betty Vanstory Dobson and Alice Ballard White were fabulous! The costumers rendered Roaring Twenties’ fashion with detail and style. In fact, all the technical aspects of this Romeo and Juliet were very well done. It all came together for a summer evening’s classy entertainment. Sound and after-dark lighting captured the moment—the full moon added a special glow. Justin Fox choreographed the party dance sequence, and the sword fights were choreographed by the actors themselves, with guidance from Brennan Tutterow, who recently returned from Theater School in London. Sword fighting is always a high point in this play and needs to be done right, and these scenes were spot-on.
Historic Sharpe House hosted its own garden dinner party for guests before the curtain went up—just an easy stroll from table to the pasture behind the house where the stage was set.
Rhyne, producer and actor, worked with Director Terry Mayberry Wall for well over 18 months, and their hard work was apparent in the scope and beauty of this production. Inspiring the cast and crew of over 30 volunteers to bring their best work to the stage, they succeeded several times over. Like many of the people involved in this show, Keith and Terry have long played respected roles in Statesville’s community theatre family. They plan to continue their creative partnership in future productions, bringing more talent to the stage. As Terry said in her opening remarks, “This is what community theatre is all about.”
The Sharpe House Historic Player’s next project is the Jones, Hope, Wooten comedy “Savannah Sipping Society.” Wall will direct this just-for-fun, modern-day story about strong Southern women discovering it’s never too late to make new old friends. The Romeo and Juliet stage, built by the R&J cast and crew, will be reconfigured for Savannah Sipping Society. Meanwhile, plans are in the works for Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” on May 19-21, 2022.