Tragic love story sets the mood for Valentine’s

Photo courtesy of The Atlanta Shakespeare Company

Since the year 2000, The New American Shakespeare Tavern has shown the ever-popular Shakespearean play “Romeo and Juliet” every February. This is only logical, since people tend to enjoy seeing the tragic story of two senseless teenagers around Valentine’s Day. Of course, this dedication to the star-crossed lovers creates the problem of doing a play altogether too often.

Before some plays, the audience is asked if they are return patrons or if this is their first time going to the tavern. For many plays, the returners far outweigh the newcomers. For “Romeo and Juliet,” however, the audience is about half and half between the two groups, occasionally favoring the newcomers.

Doing the same thing for the sixteenth year in a row tends to bore, even taking into account the occasionally varying actors in each role. This year’s rendition of the timeless tale of doomed love saw the return of most of the 2014 cast, including the leading actors Nick Arapoglou and Annie York Hester.

As is the case of any production worth its salt, the players involved are most certainly worth mentioning. From enamored to depressed, hopeless and suicidal, Hester does a fantastic job portraying the range of Juliet’s emotions. In Addition, Arapoglou complements Hester’s performance, and the two depict their character’s ill-thought-out love as though it were true. However, while the two are fine actors and played their parts with gusto, their rendition of the two woefully tragic characters was not as entertaining as it could have been.

Since it has been shown so often at the Shakespeare Tavern and is one of the Bard’s most well-known plays, it is difficult to find someone who does not know how “Romeo and Juliet” ends. Much of the fun of plays, and of stories in general, is following the action or lack thereof that leads to a surprising, or at the very least unknown, conclusion. Since the entertainment value of an unknown ending has been taken away from this particular play by time, it is left with the talent of the actors and little else to make it an enjoyable and worthwhile experience. Sadly, as good as the actors are, they are not so good as to be able to make “Romeo and Juliet” entertaining for those seeing it for the third or fourth time.

Perhaps if there were fewer points in the plot where the viewer can see how to avoid the disastrous end watching “Romeo and Juliet” again would be more pleasant. Pointing out these alternate paths could be entertaining in itself, but after exhausting the options and knowing the play will not change its centuries-old ending, the viewers are left with yet another rendition of a senseless couple’s downfall.

For those who managed to graduate high school without reading “Romeo and Juliet” and have not been curious enough to learn the story on their own, this is perhaps one of the better places to see the play for the first time. This is mostly due to the Tavern’s adherence to original practice: they use the unmodified script from Shakespeare’s time and the actors do not acknowledge the fourth wall’s existence, reacting to the audience if the fancy strikes them.

There are, however, plenty of other plays to see, both at the Shakespeare Tavern and elsewhere, so it is probably best to stay away from the overdone classic, “Romeo and Juliet,” which will be performed until Mar. 1. Starting Mar. 5, the Shakespeare Tavern plans to perform “The Winter’s Tale,” a little-known work by the Bard which should be a nice reprieve from the familiar “Romeo and Juliet.”

Also, later this year, the Tavern has plans for performing “Taming of the Shrew,” “Merchant of Venice” and “Coriolanus,” as well as the non-Shakespearean play “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder; such a lineup will surely attract a wide range of viewers.

Our Take: 3/5