Napa Valley Register | Preview Article | JOHN HENRY MARTIN | Apr 27, 2022
|What would you do if you could do it all over again? What would you change? What would you keep the same? In Napa Valley College’s new production of “Romeo and Juliet,” Romeo Montague gets the chance to relive the famous story.|
This production follows the Zoom “Romeo and Juliet” NVC produced in the summer of 2020. Jennifer King, co-director of the shows, along with Olivia Cowell, said, “Romeo is back to try again. And can she do better?” I asked, “And it ends the same way?”
King responded, “Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.”
The cast is completely new except for Pilar Gonzalez, who is reprising her role as Romeo. Juliet is played by a Czech exchange student, Karolina Weiss, studying at NVC. (I believe Josephine Goldfarb, who was the coquettish Zoom Juliet, graduated from St. Helena High School and is studying drama at Boston University.)
King told me that her idea is that the characters are in Purgatory, and that is all she would say about the connection between the two productions. But when I began to think about this interesting idea – referencing a former production, almost as a prequel – it occurred to me that Purgatory, where sinners go to do penance, may not be the best reference to explain what is happening with the play. Instead, I am going to think of Hinduism and reincarnation. According to that religion, souls, which are immortal, incarnate on Earth to work out their karma, to learn about the existence and come to a greater understanding of creation.
This is what Romeo is doing in the NVC show.
With each incarnation, similar things happen and the same issues are being worked through. Romeo is back in Verona with the same characters, but they’re different people. She falls in love with a different Juliet. There are echoes of Romeo’s former 1970s life in Zoom, in particular graphic shots of an angry Tybalt in her fight with Romeo, which does not end well for Tybalt. These are dreams, déjà vu moments from her previous life.
This production is the most technologically advanced live performance of anything I have seen done in the Napa Valley. This production features remote cameras, cell phones, an avant-garde laser light show and a digital personal assistant whose face is an avatar animated by an actor off stage and projected onto a huge screen above the stage.
Freya Marcelius’ costumes are beige, cream and white. Ladies wear flowing gowns and with voluminous fabric wraps. Men have waistcoats that come to the calf. Romeo is dressed like an 18th-century pirate, or a young squire tending to the horses of a knight. The contrast between the diaphanous costumes, but the technologically advanced features give the play a Star Wars quality. It’s the same dissonance one observes with Obi-Wan Kenobe wearing ancient linen robes, but wielding a lightsaber and traveling at the speed of light.
I didn’t see the whole play at the rehearsal I went to, but I got the sense that this “Romeo and Juliet” is altogether different from previous ones. It’s an exciting prospect that King has taken the creative license to do something new with a story that is so well known. But it seems with the pandemic, many of the things we thought would never change, did, and much of it for the better. This will probably be the same.
Romeo and Juliet plays for one weekend only, April 29 and 30 at 7 p.m. and May 1 at 2 p.m. at the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center. Tickets are “pay what you can.” For tickets and more information go to performingartsnapavalley.org.
Images from Napa Valley College Performing Arts Department Production of “Romeo and Juliet”, 2022