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Oct312018

Mill Town's "Romeo and Juliet" Packs Emotional Wallop

By Paul Hyde

Set it where you will, “Romeo and Juliet” can still pack a wallop.

Gregory Middleton as Romeo and Kat Bates as Juliet. Photos by Escobar PhotographyThe Mill Town Players decided to place Shakespeare’s tragedy among hardscrabble mountain folk in 19thcentury Appalachia.

The conceit works well, perhaps because any time period is apropos for a play about how tribal animosities can destroy young love and young lives.

Such hatred has always been with us, and perhaps more so in this election year, as the headlines of the past week attest. 

Director Christopher Rose has given the play, which opening Friday, a hurtling momentum, reducing its famed “two hours’ traffic of our stage” to one hour.

Rose has cut many lines while admirably retaining the heart of the story about the star-crossed lovers from two families divided (in this production like the Hatfields and McCoys) by an ancient feud.

Shakespeare’s words remain unchanged, but they’re delivered with Appalachian accents. Knives and guns take the place of swords. Paris bribes Capulet for his daughter’s hand with a jug of moonshine. If those nods to our own region’s heritage help to bring the play’s message closer to home, all the better.

Another plus: This is an age-appropriate production: Rose’s teenage characters are played by young actors.

Rose’s uptempo production grabs you by the lapels and never releases you. One occasionally longs for more breathing space for dramatic emphasis – or for love to develop. (I believe this play is being prepared for competition where performance time is limited.)

Yet the cruelty of the parents, the rage of the young rivals and the fate of the lovers tug mightily at the heart.

Kat Bates and Gregory Middleton are an appealing pair of impetuous young lovers. Bates is a glowing Juliet. Middleton is the very picture of the wide-eyed besotted swain with his head in the clouds.

The marvelous Cindy Mixon is a standout as the blunt, earthy, garrulous, highly emotional Nurse. She’s terrific.

It’s a pleasure also to see Anne Robards, another veteran of Upstate stages, as the fierce Lady Capulet. 

Ken Thomason has some explosive scenes as the domestic tyrant Capulet.

In a nice bit of non-traditional casting, Kelly Crittendon is a nimble Mercutio, delivering the character’s Queen Mab speech with verve.

Also offering solid contributions are Will Landrum (Benvolio), Al Means (Friar Lawrence), Jason Masters (Paris/Apothecary), Matthew Garrison (Tybalt), Ed Chambers (Montague) and Debbie Chambers (Lady Montague). 

Scenes are pleasingly interspersed with some evocative Appalachian fiddle music.

Will Ragland’s set design features a weather-beaten barn that serves a variety of purposes. Mountains and trees are never out of sight, reminding the audience of the ties that bind these characters to the land.

Beth King’s costumes are excellent – plain, sometimes threadbare and dirty -- suggesting a people burdened by poverty and hard work.

The cast generally articulates Shakespeare’s words clearly and naturally, although a few lines could be enunciated more crisply.

This production of “Romeo and Juliet” continues at Pelzer’s Mill Town Players through Nov. 4. For tickets, call 864-947-8000 or visit the website www.milltownplayers.org.

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Anderson Observer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

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