Photo - ORIGINS: before Romeo & Juliet, there were Adriano (Jason Bolduc), Catherine (Rachel Sacks),and Rosalie (Tana Sirois).
STARCROSSED By S. A. Shipley.
Directed by Billy Butler.
Produced by Soul Soup at the Players’ Ring,
A world-premiere prequel is the thing in Portsmouth
by Megan Grumbling
The famed offspring of the families Capulet and Montague have held the spotlights of the world’s proscenia for centuries, but have you ever wondered about their forebears? Wherefore the family grudge that cast their tragedy? This is that story. In the tradition of Stoppard’s well versed fooling with the Shakespearean canon comes Soul Soup’s world premiere of Star Crossed, a sublime prequel to Romeo and Juliet by S.A. Shipley, produced at the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth.
If, on account of the title, you dread a painfully charming two hours of syrup, you will be delighted with what you find instead: a bawdy work of seamless storytelling, intricate and deeply empathetic characters, and — the most surprising ambrosia — extraordinary execution of the classical Elizabethan form. This includes the Shakespearean works: iambic pentameter across the board, rhymed couplets to end scenes, and even a well-placed sonnet or two, all of which the Soul Soup cast delivers with glee and graceful acuity. The fine verse relates the story of the wooings, awakening, and wedding which befall wealthy young Catherine di Senna (Rachel Sacks), and the fallout these rain upon Verona.
Despite the vigilance of her nurse (Amanda Collis, infectiously funny, frank, and wry) and her own determination never to marry, Catherine manages to fall for the penniless, causeless rebel Adriano de Capulet (Jason Bolduc) rather than the well heeled but rather anal Tiberio Montague (Joel Smith), favored by her devoted twin brother Calisto (Matt Cost). This strains the young men’s friendship, and to complicate things further, Catherine’s tweener cousin Rosalie (Tana Sirois) has already crushed hard, à la Cosmo Girl, for Capulet. The resulting tangles test the wit and the limits of everyone’s love and honor.
To construct this fraught back-story, Shipley combed through not just Shakespeare’s version of the tragedy — which he had, of course, lifted from the public domain in the first place — but older sources, and nursed the clues she found there toward what she saw as their logical extension. The exacting classical form in which she clothes the tale is not just a gimmick; it’s marked by an accomplished and ardent attention to language. By turns lyrical and dirty, Star Crossed combines a modern linguistic sensibility with the lovely rhythms of yore that blank verse affords. In one speech about her own roused yearnings, Catherine describes having once seen her usually stiff mother, "drunk on unfamiliar wine," loll laughingly back against her chair, spreading her legs. Laced with innuendo as well as nimble, melodic language, it’s emblematic of what the script as a whole achieves.
As the play’s language and tenor span a range from the libertine to the sublime, so do the immaculate performances of this very young cast astound with their suppleness, under the virtuoso direction of Billy Butler. As Rosalie, Sirois is asked to negotiate a wide arc of growth, from bothersome younger sister to precocious preteen coquette to troubled wife with child, and her evolution is remarkably nuanced. Sacks, as Catherine, and Dinah Schultze, as her cousin Bernadine, both gambol about on an exquisite line between girlhood and womanhood.
These girls are all of 16 years old when they wed, after all, and Shipley’s script lets the actresses offer a much more intimate glimpse of the transition than the Bard himself afforded. When Bernadine, after having stomped and sobbed her pre-wedding woes to Catherine, returns as a young matron, she is clearly astounded, herself, by the evident afterglow of her sexual awakening. In her subsequent monologue about her wedding night, she describes her new husband lifting her hair from her neck and telling her of the ways of horses, of how one must win their trust slowly, first looking where they look. She relates this with a newfound maturity and wonder, yet can’t resist the giggling exultation, at Catherine’s remark that she is in fact no horse, that she has nonetheless "been rid."
In the chemistry between the center-stage lovers, Catherine and Capulet, there are equal parts eros, cheek, and mystery. Capulet’s seaside seduction of Catherine, on a stage glazed in the yellow light of late afternoon, is alone reason enough to take the trip to Portsmouth. Perhaps you recall, from your own early romantic encounters, not just a sexual charge but a near-mystical sensation, and it’s that enigma that Bolduc’s incandescent wooing evokes. Their sudden love emerges as more than just a picturesque prop for Elizabethan verse, but something as eerie as it is enrapturing.
If you swoon for Shakespeare, love, or the language of either, you should not miss this play. By definition, a prequel risks being overpowered by the specter of the known story that follows it, but in Soul Soup’s superlative production, from curtain to curtain, the famous offspring-to-come never once eclipse their forbears on the stage. The kith and kin of this younger Verona smolder in a light all their own.
Megan Grumbling can be reached at email@example.com
Issue Date: February 11 - 17, 2005