“Romeo and Juliet” by Seattle Shakespeare

Playing at Cornish Playhouse, Seattle Shakespeare has produced┬áthis show a little differently. Every audience member has a stage seat in the current production of “Romeo and Juliet.” They share the space with the performers, closed off from the vast auditorium by heavy stage curtains. Director Vanessa Miller has placed you and the actors in an unusual juxtaposition.

Bleachers run down both sides of a long alley in the center of the Playhouse stage. As if they were at a football match, the audience members watch as the action moves back and forth in front of them from end zone to end zone. It’s a unique presentation and works effectively in most ways. Sadly, as the action moves the sound deteriorates, and if you are not seated mid-alley, you’ll lose some of the dialog.

If you know the play well, as most theatregoers do, the machinations of the plot are not lost as the dialog loses its clarity. What is gained is flow. The action sweeps back and forth covering much more length than would be possible in more traditional presentations.

The production team has made the most of this opportunity. Special effects are magical. When Romeo meets Juliet strings of lights descend to encompass them in a magical glow (lighting by Tim Wratten). Sword fights move from one end of the extended stage to the other giving them a reality that is often missing. The balcony scene is treated with minimal scenery yet it loses nothing in its emotional power. The sound effects powerfully enhance mood (Robert Witmer).

We have music here as well, music composed by Justin Huertas. Acoustic piano, cello, violin, and guitar joined with glock, cajon, and typewriter are effective in heightening the drama. It’s almost impossible to imagine this production without the music.

Of course, to make this play really work you must have a good cast. Outstanding is Anastasia Higham as Juliet. She’s certainly the best Juliet I’ve ever seen. Her Juliet exudes innocence, childlike enthusiasms. She captures the rapture and heartache of young love. She’s a nymph gamboling along the stage whose joy all too soon turns to unrelieved sorrow.

“Romeo and Juliet” is one of those Shakespeare plays that is done so often and sometimes not so well that many of us are hesitant to see it still one more time. This “Romeo and Juliet” is fresh, sparkling, and well worth seeing.

Through May 22 at Cornish Playhouse, 201 Mercer St., Seattle Center, (206 733-8222)

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