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Review: Genesius Guild's Romeo and Juliet

Romeo & Juliet continues June 25 and 26 at Lincoln Park in Rock Island at 7pm.

Full disclosure: I was a member of the Genesius Guild troupe of players for over 30 years, beginning in 1969, and so I suffered more than a little trepidation prior to reviewing the Guild’s current production of Romeo and Juliet.

First of all, 49 years ago I played Juliet on that very same stage, directed by Guild founder, Don Wooten. I was concerned whether I could maintain my objectivity. Secondly, over the past several years my husband and I have been season ticket holders at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington as well as attending Shakespeare in the Park in St. Louis. Two top notch professional venues. Could I fairly evaluate an amateur production? Apparently not. After a lot of soul searching I arose at 3:00 this morning and completely rewrote the scathing review I originally intended to give.

Back in 2019, I wrote a review of Genesius Guild’s The Tempest and applauded the Guild’s outreach to local high schools casting teenagers ALONG WITH Guild veterans. It gave teenagers a chance to spread their wings while being mentored by seasoned performers and brought fresh blood into an aging troupe of players. However, the cast of Romeo and Juliet is ALL teenagers and the result is a high school production. But this is Genesius Guild where a higher standard is expected.

Therefore, in opposition to the effusively glowing review I read in The River City Reader there were flaws I couldn’t overlook and that can only be laid at the feet of the director. Here’s my list:

One: these inexperienced teens were inaudible beyond the concrete enclosure surrounding most of the seating.  So was I 49 years ago, but Don Wooten taught me how to project and insisted that I do so. Performing in Lincoln Park with all its distractions is a monumental challenge.  A challenge that was unmet in this case.

Two: there was essentially no set other than a set of stairs attached to nothing with a platform at the top that was meant to accommodate the balcony scene and a lonely bench placed at stage left. There was nothing to even vaguely suggest, the Capulet house, Friar Lawrence’s abbey, or the tomb.  The actors basically walked out on stage from the sides and recited lines. And why only use one of the three arches available? This resulted in boring blocking.  I spoke to someone close to the Guild after the show and was told that despite waning audiences in recent years, finances have never been better. So, I have to ask:  Why wasn’t some of that money used to build a set?

Three:  I’m assuming that not enough males auditioned for this show so I have to give a pass to the casting of females in the roles of Mercutio, Tybalt and a few other minor parts, but they should have been portrayed AS men. Women did not stroll the streets of Renaissance Verona spoiling for a fight.

Four:  Juliet and one of the supernumeraries both wore their glasses. Although primitive eyeglasses existed during the Renaissance they were not common. The supernumerary, a decidedly lower class character, was also wearing sparkly little earrings and a necklace. This is Genesius Guild CLASSICAL Theatre. Please respect that and eliminate the anachronisms.

Five:  Most egregious was that the first half of the play, which should have been a tender, romantic blossoming of first love instead played like a caricature and made the idea that young lovers would kill themselves over their passion implausible.

It pains me very deeply to say this production fell short. I can overlook flaws in inexperienced teenagers – but it is harder to overlook the failings of the adults in the room. Those kids deserve better.