Actors bring Shakespeare classic to life at Bennington park
NORTH BENNINGTON -- The lawn of the Park-McCullough House was transformed into Shakespearean Verona on Sunday evening, as a sizable crowd witnessed Hubbard Hall's production of "Romeo and Juliet."
The play was part of the organization's 20th annual Summer Shakespeare Theater Tour, and was the first production of the classic play in the organization's 37-year history. A large crowd showed up to view the performance, which is one of nine shows that will be put on between July 18 and July 26.
The outdoor performances used speakers to play music at various points during the play, but the actors themselves were un-mic'd and utilized very little in terms of props or scenery. Mount Anthony Union High School rising junior Sebastian Durfee and Cambridge, New York, native and Hubbard Hall veteran Virginia May Edinger both delivered excellent performances as the two star-crossed teenaged lovers for which the play is named, surrounded by a talented supporting cast which included Adam Shulman as Benvolio, Digy Baker-Porazinski as Tybalt, Erin Ouellette as Mercutio, Catherine Seeley as Juliet's nurse, and Mariah Sanford-White as Friar Lawrence.
The play was directed by Hubbard Hall executive director David Snider, and was financed by donations from the audience. After the show, cast members circulated through the audience asking for donations, with Edinger asking audience members who had enjoyed seeing her die on stage to please support the theater company.
As with any outdoor, un-mic'd performance there were a few barking dogs or passing aircraft which caused lines of dialogue to be missed, but for the most part the actors projected well, despite the large crowd.
Instead of traditional scene and act changes, actors would simply leave center stage when their scene was through, to be immediately replaced with new characters for the next scene. When they were not involved in the scene, characters would often wander around the outskirts of the audience, continuing silently conversations they had been having on stage. Edinger's sobbing after learning of her lover's exile could still be heard well after she had left center stage, but was in no way distracting from the new scene that had begun to unfold.
Actors improvised well with what little scenery the lawn of Park-McCullough provided, most notably with Paris hiding behind the shrubbery to ambush Romeo at the Capulets' tomb. For props, a ladder replaced Juliet's iconic window, knives were used for the swordfights, and flashlights replaced torches. Other than that, the actors were forced to rely solely on their acting abilities, and in the case of Ouelette's hilarious Mercutio, a few bawdy hand gestures, to move the plot forward.
Durfee auditioned for and was given the title role in the play, his first acting experience with Hubbard Hall, which is based out of Cambridge. He went into the audition with considerable theater experience, having participated in the North Bennington Shakespeare Theatre from a young age, and as a member of the drama club at MAUHS. Before the show, he said that he had enjoyed working with Edinger, whose performance history at Hubbard Hall includes "Raising Spirits" and "Trial by Jury," saying "I'm in awe of her."
There are several free performances of "Romeo and Juliet" remaining on the schedule, for those who missed the performance on Sunday. The troupe will perform on Hoosick Falls Common on Tuesday, July 22; Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester on Wednesday, July 23; the Factory Point Town Green in Manchester on Thursday, July 24; the Salem Arts Works in Salem, New York, on Friday July 25; and on the Greenwich Commons in Greenwich, New York, on Saturday, July 26. All performances are free and open to the public and are at 7 p.m. More information can be found at hubbardhall.org
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