“Romeo and Juliet” is William Shakespeare’s “Free Bird.”
It’s the one everyone knows, the one everyone can quote — the popular personification of one of the greatest playwrights of all time.
Comparative deep cuts like “Hamlet” and “Othello,” let alone “The Taming of the Shrew” or “Antony and Cleopatra,” never fail to draw a crowd, but it’s the Bard’s tale of feuding families and two young star-crossed lovers in Verona that looms largest over his admittedly gargantuan oeuvre.
Why do we like this story? It’s very sad.
Why we do we like these character? They are, at best, hopelessly angsty emo teens and, at worst, squabbling petty nobles.
Still, love it we do, for more than 400 years and an awesome array of revivals, adaptations and spin-offs, the latest of which sees the Bard’s classic back outdoors, where it was intended to be performed, at Bloedel Reserve courtesy of Bainbridge Performing Arts.
“I think [we love it] because of it’s timelessness and all of the different dualities it addresses,” said director Kate Carruthers. “Light and dark. Life and death. Love and sex … it’s got everything that way.”
The cast is lead by the titular teen lovers: Keara Dooley, 21, as Juliet, and Gavin Michaels, 19, as Romeo.
Quick-witted, bawdy Mercutio is played by Dylan Zucati, would-be peacemaker Benvolio by David Breyman, and temperamental Tybalt by Connor Kinzer.
Rounding out the cast are Michala Hansen, Fred Saas, Victoria Brown, Gary Fetterplace, Kristi Ann Jacobson, Jean Sleight, Citori Luecht, Robert Craighead and Eliza Lane, many of whom are playing more than one part.
The show requires a comparatively younger main cast than Carruthers said she’s used to handling. The director, who last helmed the Bloedel-based production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” was however immediately impressed with the fresh-faced thespians.
“I was very impressed and what I wanted to capture was that sense of first love,” she said. “We don’t have a wealth of 20-somethings on the island, we just don’t, and I wanted my Romeo and Juliet to be as young as possible. The challenge is to get them young, to be believable and experienced enough that they have the chops to do it, because both roles are really challenging — particularly Juliet.”
The youth of the main characters adds another dimension, Carruthers said, to the unsolvable puzzle that is the heart of the play’s continued appeal.
“I think there’s all these paradoxes and dualities in the play that make it really intriguing and make it impossible to resolve finally and for sure why did they die?” she said. “What caused that?
“Is it choice? Is it fate? Is it the impulsiveness of youth that causes it? Is it stupidity? Is it dumb luck — bad luck?”
Another rare treat the show allowed, Carruthers said, was the chance for her, along with the show’s fight choreographer, to stage some swordplay.
“Part of it’s luck; you try and cast people who move well,” Carruthers said. “The sword fighting is particularly good.
“It’s exciting for everybody,” she added. “Kids watching it. Adults watching it. People love to see sword fighting.”
Fun as it is at times, of course, the play’s a tragedy for a reason.
“Romeo and Juliet are so young and they die young and they die when their love is still pure,” the director said. “You will always love Romeo and Juliet because they never ever did anything, they never had a crossed word with each other. They never had their love spoiled; it’s pure and perfect.
“Maybe we all come back hoping this time they’ll make it.”
The all-ages show will run from Friday, July 13 to Sunday, July 29, with performances beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Tickets, $24 to $29 each, are available. Visit www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org to learn more and to purchase.
Picnics will be allowed in the meadow after 6 p.m., however beer and wine will neither be sold nor permitted at this year’s event per regulations under the Washington State Liquor & Cannabis Board.
Running slightly longer than two hours, the production has one intermission. Patrons are advised to bring their own seats, low lawn chairs or blankets on which to sit. Staff members will assist patrons upon their arrival in the meadow. Seating on blankets will be in front; seating in elevated chairs will be in rear. Space is limited, and seating is first-come, first-served.
As there is no ADA parking close to the stage, patrons requiring handicap access can make use of a shuttle drop off at the stage area. Please note, however, that the audience area is a grassy area and that there is no paved access to the meadow.