Oakland Tribune, September, 1999
star-crossed lovers are at it again.
The Shotgun Players, continuing a tradition begun last summer with the
parking lot Richard III, are offering another free late-summer
Shakespeare production. This year it's Romeo and Juliet at Berkeley's
John Hinkel Park, the former home of the Berkeley Shakespeare Company,
precursor to the California Shakespeare Festival.
Although not as ferociously good as Richard III, Shotgun's Romeo
is a lean, frequently funny and moving take on Shakespeare's most loved
Not all the actors are up to the challenge of tackling the verse, but
the key players have a firm grip on the language and several deliver standout
Trish Mulholland is great fun as Juliet's Nurse, the loving, occasionally
lewd, interloper who helps arrange Juliet's clandestine marriage to Romeo.
Whether she's gushing about what a good baby Juliet was or wailing over
the corpse of her beloved charge, Mulholland wavers believably between
silliness and compassion.
Kevin Karrick's Mercutio is beautifully drawn. The actor speaks his lines
with such authority and ease he seems a Shakespearean natural. There's
a delightful ribaldry to his 'Queen Mab' speech, a playful lustiness in
his taunting of the Nurse and a savagery to his fatal duel with Tybalt
In stark contrast to the play's lyrical romanticism, director Patrick
Dooley and choreographer Rebecca Salzer have created some ferocious fight
scenes. The actor attack them - and each other - with gusto, brandishing
sticks and swords with all the fervor of hot-headed youth.
If the fighting is frighteningly real, the play's central romance is only
slightly less so. As Romeo and Juliet, Dan Wolf and Marin Van Young are
especially good in the early courting scenes.
Wolf's Romeo is, at first, a big boob. Wandering around in a melancholy
daze and heartsick over a woman named Rosalind, Romeo is the height of
self-involvement and a prime target for Mercutio's taunts. But then he
falls hard for Juliet, a Capulet and enemy to his family, and he becomes
a much more interesting man.
Played in the natural, mottled light of late afternoon, the famous balcony
scene - 'Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?' - is one of this production's
greatest joys. Wolf and Van Young delight in their characters' newfound
love, finding both the humor and the passion, and set designer Michael
Frassinelli's towering balcony is gorgeous against the backdrop of the
park's lush greenery.
The fact that this Romeo is a no-frills version is one of its charms.
The costumes, by Morgan Forsey, Bella Warda (who also plays the Chorus
and the Prince of Verona) and Kitty, are simple but effective and add
some needed color to the action.
The fancy costume ball that provides a background for Romeo and Juliet's
fated meeting can be difficult to render in a cost-effective way, but
Dooley and his crew do it wonderfully well with suggestions of costumes
and stately dancing. They couldn't afford a sound system or musicians
so the actors provide the music by 'bum bum bumming' their way through.
The heightened drama of the play's second half proves more of a challenge
for the Shotgun Players. After the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, when
the focus turns toward the tragic unraveling of Romeo and Juliet's love
story, the actors become more actor-y and less engaging.
The ending, which features a number of bodies strewn about the stage,
still packs a wallop, and Shakespeare's admonitory 'violent delights have
violent ends' still rings sadly true.
Director Dooley uses the space well and has actors making entrances and
exits through the audience or off into the hilly areas surrounding the
stage. At Sunday's performance, Juliet wandered into the audience while
delivering a monologue and ended up directing it at two little girls who
sat in rapt attention.
One girl - the one wearing the 'girl power' tank top - would go on to
comfort her friend in the second act: 'Juliet's not really dead,' she
said loudly enough for the entire audience to hear. 'She's just sleeping.'
It's a wonder sleeping Juliet could keep a straight face. The audience
Bay Express, September, 1999
this production doesn't capture the grandeur that the Shotgunners found
in spades in last year's outdoor staging of Richard III, director
Patrick Dooley has a sure sense of timing and an ability to meld his ensemble
into a cohesive unit. Taking over the old home of the Berkeley Shakespeare
Festival in John Hinkel Park (but, unlike Berkeley Shakes, not charging
admission), the Shotgun crew has a good time with this play. And the swift
pace, though it somewhat undercuts the tragic elements, allows a palpable
sense of the inexorable nature of fate and the teen protagonists' impulsiveness
to come across clearly. Marin Van Young's tomboyish Juliet is a welcome
change from the twee waifs one often associates with this part (her habit
of charging into Friar Laurence's cell, slamming the door behind her,
becomes a successful running joke here), and Dan Wolf brings sweet vulnerability,
coupled with smoldering physical vigor, to his Romeo. Kevin Karrick steals
the show as Mercutio (but doesn't Mercutio always steal this show?). Trish
Mulholland's Nurse and Reid Davis' Friar Laurence share a disturbing blinkered
adult propensity for self-preservation in the face of the lovers' unbearable
dilemma; I don't think I've ever been as creeped out by Laurence's abandonment
of Juliet in the Capulet tomb as I was here. Gendell Hernandez, in addition
to wringing every possible laugh out of his hapless servant Peter, does
a terrific job with the fight choreography (which, given the concrete
playing surface, is no easy task - one false move and somebody could get
their clock cleaned pretty thoroughly). If the city of Berkeley could
be persuaded to let Shotgun do free Shakespeare at John Hinkel every year,
I certainly wouldn't complain.
Weekly, April 8, 1999
is the first Shotgun Player production that's ever left me totally cold.
Henry V and others were excellent; Mascara stank; but this
strange suburban drama about mah-jongg housewives and mangrove swamps
in Florida registered a flat green line on my critic's voltmeter.
The script is by Benjie Aerenson, one of Sam Shepard's discoveries. It
opens with a story about Sally Martin, a neurotic mother, scooping a dead
possum out of the road with her tennis racket, then walking onto the court
and noticing a shiny drop of blood on the strings when she cocks the racket
to serve. The whole play is as disturbing as that single unlikely image.
It distills the headachey surfaces of the suburbs into something even
more headachey - like a David Hockney painting - without ever seeming
Sally's teenage son, Clark, is a delinquent who drives around with friends,
killing possums. He picks on a peaceful kid at school named Jordan; his
delinquent friends have nothing better to do than goad Jordan into a fight.
'He heard you've been sporting Lisa,' they tell him, Lisa being Clark's
girlfriend, and 'sport' being slang for just about any unmentionable word.
Sally has no idea that her son's a jerk; but when she learns that he's
responsible for most of the dead possums in the road, she gradually goes
insane. She skinny-dips in the mangrove swamps; she offers to clean her
girlfriends' houses. Her weird slip from middle-classness into moon-worshipping,
pagan fugue is interesting from a distance, but the show itself has no
life, no chemistry between the players.
The acting isn't the problem. Mary Eaton Fairfield is credible as Sally;
Dan Wolf stays within bounds as Clark, although his one-dimensionality
sometimes grates. Beth Donohue and Judy Phillips both do good work as
dryly levelheaded girlfriends of Sally's. The problem is the script, which
builds to a violent climax that feels less cathartic than lurid. Aerenson
never penetrates his glossy surfaces, and the flat line of his drama is
broken only by sudden, hilarious jokes.
The whole effect is kind of creepy."
Daily Planet, September 8, 1999
best theatre bargain in Berkeley right now is Shotgun Players' free performances
of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet every weekend through Oct. 3
at the outdoor ampitheatre in John Hinkel Park off the Arlington.
...Shotgun has put together a street production of Romeo and Juliet.
The production has a rough feel, but it's charming, and, judging by reactions,
it engages the audience. This is not a stuffy museum production of Shakespeare.
The actors understand their characters, and understand emotionally what
they're doing at each point in the play, so the language comes through
clearly to the audience.
Romeo and Juliet turns on the electrifying sexual passion that
ignites two young people who suddenly fall in love, but whose families
hate each other.
The play is also an examination of the psychology of warring neighbors,
and the relationship between love and hate. It suggests that the intimate
emotion of hate is actually a twisted form of love gone bad.
A lot of things go wrong in the world of Romeo and Juliet, and a lot of
people end up dead.
Director Patrick Dooley's edgy, quasi-modern-dress production contains
a number of distinctive moments. The play's opening fight on the street,
for example, between the warring Montagues and Capulets, mixed black and
white actors, and had a dangerous feel.
Performed outdoors in Hinkel Park, most of the action takes place in the
lower stage area, but some of it ranges up into the ampitheatre seats
and through the audience, fully utilizing the space.
This production emphasizes the sexual heat between Romeo and Juliet, who
are ready to jump into bed the first moment they see each other. They
agree to marry on the night they first meet.
Marin Van Young's impatient tomboy Juliet, a very contemporary character,
sets the tone of the production. A smart-aleck 14-year-old, she talks
back to her mother who is trying to marry her off to a rich guy she doesn't
want. Juliet announces, 'Marriage is an honor that I dream not of.' At
the top of the play, Juliet's violent participation in the street fight
between the Montagues and the Capulets makes a strong statement about
A lot of the action of the first half of the play is driven by the lovers'
sexual attraction. Dan Wolf's intense and focused, hormone-driven Romeo
can hardly keep his hands off Juliet. This raw energy of the lovers flags,
however, in the second half, where the play deals more with the consequences
of their forbidden romance, and the production struggles to find its focus.
For example, at the start of the second half, when Juliet learned of the
killing of her cousin Tybalt by her new husband Romeo, actress Van Young
struggled to process the complexity of that situation, and her reactions
seemed superficial and speechifying.
Still, there are many good performances in this Shotgun production. Trish
Mulholland is strong as Juliet's gabby, bawdy nurse, teasing the girl
about her emerging love life. Likewise, Kevin Karrick is entertaining
as satirical, big-talking Mercutio, teasing his friend Romeo about his
Gendell Hernandez's goofy, illiterate, alcoholic Capulet servant Peter
is marvelous. Michael Wiles stands out as red-faced, rage-crazed, volatile
Reid Davis traveled a long emotional arc as well-meaning, know-it-all
Friar Laurence, and brought intelligence and depth to a character who
is often played as a buffoon. Tommy Shepworth is a calm presence as Romeo's
Doubling as fight choreographer, Hernandez's vivid street fighting, done
sometimes with sticks, and sometimes with swords, was exciting.
The eclectic street dress worn by the actors, a mix of contemporary and
period clothing, by costumers Morgan Forsey, Bella Warda and Kitty, added
to the edgy feel of the production.
High Jacket, September 24, 1999
come to expect well directed, if technically sparse, performances from
Shotgun, and this production is not a disappointment on either count.
The set is functional, considering they have to haul it out of the park
every performance, and the costumes are a strange blend of modern and
period. In classic independent theatre style, the two houses are somewhat
color-coded, with the Montagues in blue and the Capulets in red and green.
This lack of subtlely is echoed in the acting style, but not without effect.
Dooley has managed to get across many of the main themes of the play in
the difficult environment of an outdoor theatre. The balcony is not just
tall, it's towering, and we repeatedly see weapons as phallic symbols.
Gendell Hernandez, the fight choreographer, is to be given credit for
putting these weapons to use in a series of great fight scenes. We see
swords and staffs flying all over the place in a few melees, and all of
the characters seem to be competent, although Tybalt (Michael Wiles) seems
a little clumsy to be the 'duelist' he is purported to be.
Mercutio (Kevin Karrick) more than holds his own in both the physical
and verbal sparring. He delivers Mercutio's caustic lines with needed
irony and sarcasm, and plays well off of Benvolio (Tommy Shepworth).
Romeo (Dan Wolf), although lacking the inherent hold of Shakespearean
language that Karrick demonstrates, is played as any true Romeo should
be played: pathetically. Wolf has captured the lovable misery that allows
all of us to identify with this rejected young man.
Marin Van Young, usually one of Shotgun's best and most versatile actresses,
seems to miss the mark as Juliet. She is portrayed as a whiny airhead,
and Van Young's attempt at youth appears more like a gawky ten-year-old.
The supporting cast is a real treat, showing their stuff in character
roles, with each actor assigned multiple parts. Real standouts are Reid
Davis as Friar Laurence, and Trish Mulholland as the nurse, a bright spot
in an otherwise somewhat disappointing female cast.
Bella Warda seems particularly miscast as the Prince of Verona. Her lack
of subtlety goes beyond being effective to just being a little annoying,
and her dramatic style seems out of place as the Chorus as well.
The second act, far more dramatic if somewhat less polished, can become
tedious on one's hindquarters, so be sure to bring a blanket and pillow
to cope with the hard stone seats. The actors seem to have a somewhat
sketchy hold on a few lines in this act, and none are able to cry convincingly
in such a large and open space, but these rough spots are easily glossed
over by the speed and excitement that these actors are able to elicit.
Although some of the acting is uncharacteristically weak for a Shotgun
Players' production, the show as a whole overcomes the formidable handicap
of an outdoor theatre to present a powerful, funny, and very well directed
play. Hope for a beautiful day and go see this great, and completely free,
Medanos College Experience,
September 24, 1999
Los Medanos College Little Theatre was transformed a week ago Thursday
into a 15th century village full of fierce enemies, elegant masquerade
balls, bloody battles and love, during a unique performance of Shakespeare's
Romeo and Juliet, courtesy of the Shotgun Players.
In a special presentation of the Bard's tragic tale of star-crossed lovers
and feuding clans, the renowned, award-winning Shotgun Players held the
audience spellbound for two hours while transporting them back to a little
Italian village called Verona, where the story takes place.
This group of players focused on performance, without all the pyrotechnics
other companies might have used. And the audience had no trouble getting
into the performance - they were part of it. The Shotgun Players were
everywhere. They entered stage left, stage right, stage parking lot C
and stage college entrance. They professed their undying love and ranted
in anger from the top theatre steps. They talked to the audience, asking
questions that could never be answered.
...The Shotgun Players were formed in 1992 under the direction of Patrick
Dooley after performing a play in a pizza parlor basement. And the award-winning,
Berkeley based troupe never looked back. Their mission is to make affordable,
intellectually challenging, entertaining theatre available to everyone...
September 8, 1999
Pretty Good Shakespeare
in Berkeley's John Hinkel Park looks suspiciously like the abandoned site
of a Shakespeare festival. The slope of a hill overlooking the stage has
been cut into steps, which are marked with faded paint that showed audiences
where to sit, back when the Berkeley Shakespeare Company convened every
summer in the dusty tree-embower'd bowl.
Berkeley Shakes moved
to Orinda in 1991 and renamed itself Cal Shakes. So in 1997, the Shotgun
Players took over the chore of doing Elizabethan theater in Berkeley parks,
including Hinkel. It's becoming a tentative tradition, interrupted by
last summer's Shakespeare in the Parking Lot tour, a likably smartass
idea that was unfortunately sabotaged by teenagers throwing rocks.
Now the company is
back in the park, doing Romeo and Juliet. (On a side note, the play turns
out to have excellent comic potential, especially when you remember that
women, in Shakespeare's time, didn't act -- female roles were played by
apprentice boys. So the original Juliet must have looked more like a catamite
than a romantic Victorian girl, and the raw material this suggests for
a satirical gay revival makes you wonder why Danny Scheie hasn't tried
it already.) However, revisionism isn't what Shotgun is up to, and the
company's Romeo and Juliet is very straight.
Dan Wolf plays a strapping
young Romeo, and Marin Van Young is a funny postmodern Juliet. Both have
California mannerisms that keep the play from wandering too far back to
Europe. Van Young sometimes gives up trying to be diaphanously graceful
and makes Juliet an excitable neurotic. These parts are hilarious. She
gets through the script's clichés with a funny lack of patience -- "Wherefore
art thou, Ro-meo?" -- but pays for this comedy later, when she can't quite
get her tongue around the most formal Elizabethan language.
Wolf makes an earnest
Romeo, sometimes strained, but surprisingly fluid just when you think
he's going to sound too swaggering or too sincere. One of his strongest
speeches comes after Romeo's been banished from Verona (instead of executed),
for killing Tybalt, when he puts real resentment into the lines: "'Tis
torture, and not mercy. Heaven is here where Juliet lives. ... More courtship
lives in carrion flies than Romeo." And his fights are good: The duel
with Tybalt has Romeo leaping over foil-slashes, then kicking Tybalt's
weapon across the stage and struggling for a knife. Rebecca Salzer's fight
choreography throughout the play has a careening force that makes the
front row nervous for its safety.
lots of room for strong work in smaller roles; the question is always
who will pull it off. In this case the Nurse, Mercutio, and Friar Laurence
all brighten their various scenes. Trish Mulholland is an ideal Nurse,
doting on Juliet with a cartoonishly bug-eyed face; in a mild cockney
accent she delivers her nattering nonsense about Juliet being weaned with
wormwood and falling on her face as a 3-year-old. She's both fond and
pettish. Reid Davis is a compelling (and naturally tonsured) Friar Laurence,
both pious and hard-voiced, and sometimes ironic and mocking. When Romeo
and Friar Laurence wait for Juliet before the lovers' secret wedding,
the Friar intones, "Therefore love moderately. Long love doth so./ Too
swift arrives as tardy as too slow." Frantic Juliet comes crashing through
the door. "O, so light a foot," comments the Friar.
Kevin Karrick's Mercutio
has a nice nimble solidity: He's easy with his lines as well as exaggeratedly
crude, and gets to tell most of the lewd jokes -- "Flesh, how art thou
fishified!" and a good one about Romeo hiding his bauble in a hole --
and Karrick seems to love every word. The verbal parrying between Romeo
and Mercutio that climaxes with a merciless twitting of Juliet's Nurse
is the production's tightest and strongest scene. Benvolio (Tommy Shepworth)
keeping comical score in the background while the two friends argue helps
to raise the tension, and the Nurse's offended, horrified glances at Mercutio
as he sings about an "old hare hoar" are priceless. The players get the
most out of every detail from Shakespeare's dirty mind -- details certain
productions in Orinda tend to miss.
has a comfortable sturdiness, too. He holds up scenes as Mercutio's straight
man but also puts out a sly humor of his own, especially during the Capulets'
masked ball. When the Montague boys crash the party Benvolio tries to
act normal by humming music while they dance; this is not only funny but
also a low-budget way to meet Shakespeare's stage directions for music.
The velvet, sheer scarves, rolled headdresses, and feathered masks at
the party are vivid and bright, like all the costumes, and Michael Frassinelli's
set is a clever way of solving the scene problems in one portable-looking,
walled-cityish piece, even if you can tell from a distance that it's not
really made of stone.
What the show lacks
is pathos. I didn't come close to crying. Maybe Romeo and Juliet
is too famous to end with any tragic surprise, but somehow the final cadences
here didn't stir me. True, some acting is weak -- Katherine Seabron makes
not just her Shakespeare debut but her stage debut with this show, and
her Lady Capulet seems awkward, while Michael Wiles plays an unconvincing
Balthasar and Kevin Karrick falls apart as Lord Montague -- but a necessary
sad tension is also missing from the whole production. Though Juliet on
the funeral bier looks dramatic, in a light green dress, on a lace cloth,
draped in a faint black veil, and the failing light in the park and the
flute of mourning doves set an eloquent scene, instead of mounting to
some awful catharsis the play stands revealed as a morality tale about
It's good to see the
Shotgun Players take over at Hinkel Park, though, and offer a low-budget
(free, in fact) alternative to Cal Shakes. They seem to enjoy themselves,
as usual, and give Romeo and Juliet a nimble energy that a lot of summer