Thursday, December 14, 2017
Features and More

Freefall Theatre's 'Romeo + Juliet' sticks to the text, mostly

BY JOHN FLEMING

Times Performing Arts Critic

Romeo and Juliet has come to be the ultimate expression of youth culture, but it's easy to forget how very young Shakespeare's "star-crossed lovers" actually are. In the play, Juliet is 13 or 14, Romeo is 17 or 18.

Like most productions, Freefall Theatre's Romeo + Juliet (trendy punctuation added by the company) casts the protagonists with adult actors, Jesse LeNoir, 28, and Sarah McAvoy, 24, but both of them look young.

"I think they're the perfect kind of actors to play these two roles," director Eric Davis said last week. "They both look almost believably the age of the characters. Sarah is a woman, of course, but she also has the ability to look like a little girl, and that brings out certain themes and ideas in the play that a more mature looking Juliet just can't bring out. I think that complicates things in a very interesting way."

LeNoir likens the impulsive Romeo to "a hummingbird in an ADD kind of way," he said. "He's not a thinking man, he's just emotionally driven. So I've tried to turn off my brain and approach the character through gut reactions and immediate response to stimulus around me. But I think his emotional depth and capacity for love is huge. And he's always trying to fill that up."

McAvoy, who was very convincing last year as a 14-year-old in the American Stage production of August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, sees Juliet as being quite different from Romeo, more willful and controlling. But it takes the romantic Montague swain to open her up.

"When you first meet Juliet, she's like a porcelain doll in a box, really cute, and nobody is allowed to touch," she said. "Then Romeo takes her out of the box and she's like a new woman and she doesn't know what to do with all this space in her life."

In Davis' conception of the play, the feuding Montagues and Capulets are from the same aristocratic class in Verona, though perhaps Juliet's clan is more nouveau riche.

"There is some textual support for the idea that the way these families express their station and their wealth is very different but that they are equal," he said. "The Capulets flaunt their money, while the Montagues have had their wealth longer and are more subdued in how they express it."

Some stagings have given a political interpretation to Romeo and Juliet, with, for example, the Montagues as Israelis, the Capulets as Palestinians. West Side Story sets the story amid a gang war between Puerto Rican and white teenagers.

"Our production is more about taking Shakespeare's play and nothing else," McAvoy said. "There is no other context to the play. We have created a very intimate world, and that's it."

With a cast of only eight, all the actors, except McAvoy and LeNoir, play multiple roles in Freefall's Romeo + Juliet. "There is significance to all of the doublings," Davis said. "For instance, Roxanne Fay plays the Friar and the Nurse, so she takes on the roles of both of the mentors. I think searching for those threads between the characters will be an interesting thing for the audience to enjoy."

In an unorthodox piece of casting, a woman, Jennifer Christa Palmer, is playing Tybalt, the Capulets' master duellist. Combat director Blake Braswell thinks she is perfect for the role.

"She is one of the best sword fighters in the Southeast," Braswell said. "Those boys are running for their lives when she goes after them."

Indeed, Palmer, who played Helena in the Freefall production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, is right at home with a rapier and dagger. She toured the country for six years in a comedy sword-fighting show called To the Hilt. She has played a sword-fighting girl pirate at Walt Disney World.

LeNoir, who also has worked at Disney, had a brush with celebrity in 2010 when he was a contestant on Project Runway, the reality show about fashion designers.

"I learned how to sew while learning acting, because you have to work in a costume shop to make theater go," he said. "It was my hobby on the side. When I banged my head against the wall as an actor, I'd flop over to the other side and make a pair of pants."

Nowadays, LeNoir, who got his theater training at the University of Central Florida, is more interested in acting than fashion design. "Acting, I've found, is my fuller passion," he said. "And the business of acting, I don't mind. The business of fashion is terrible."

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

Comments
New locations for Tampa’s New Year’s Eve fireworks, plus a Mario Lopez appearance

New locations for Tampa’s New Year’s Eve fireworks, plus a Mario Lopez appearance

New Year’s Eve fireworks in downtown Tampa will be a little different this year, as free, public viewing moves from Channelside Bay Plaza to Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park behind Amalie Arena due to ongoing construction. Meanwhile, the Pied Pipe...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Poll: Most Americans say 'Merry Christmas' and prefer Rudolph over Charlie Brown

Poll: Most Americans say 'Merry Christmas' and prefer Rudolph over Charlie Brown

The Monmouth University Polling institute released the results of their Christmas poll today.
Updated: 2 hours ago
‘This has gone too far,’ says defiant Tavis Smiley after PBS suspends his show for ‘misconduct’

‘This has gone too far,’ says defiant Tavis Smiley after PBS suspends his show for ‘misconduct’

PBS is "indefinitely" suspending distribution of the late-night talk show "Tavis Smiley" after multiple misconduct allegations emerged against the show’s 53-year-old host, PBS announced Wednesday.While a statement from a PBS spokeswoman did not say w...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Bar review: Spanish flair at Bulla Gastrobar in South Tampa

Bar review: Spanish flair at Bulla Gastrobar in South Tampa

Take a second and try to think of a few of the world’s biggest drinking cultures. Ireland is a freebie, but then you’ll probably move onto Germany, Russia and possibly even South Korea (yep, South Korea goes hard).How about Spain? No, I’m not just ta...
Published: 12/14/17
Exploring the incredible color, cuisine, culture of India

Exploring the incredible color, cuisine, culture of India

DELHIAs I slid my shoes off and handed the man a five-rupee note before entering the Jama Masjid mosque, I could feel the heat from the red stone against my heels. I could also feel the intense stares of the Delhi locals. I don’t know which made me s...
Published: 12/14/17
Local craft beer of the week: Big Storm’s Lightning Twenty Five Craft Lager

Local craft beer of the week: Big Storm’s Lightning Twenty Five Craft Lager

The Tampa Bay Lightning is off to its best start in franchise history, racking up NHL highs in wins and points in their 25th anniversary season.That calls for a toast.And Odessa’s Big Storm Brewing has just the beer. Turns out, the brewery picked a g...
Published: 12/14/17
Why is eggnog a holiday tradition? Exploring fresh renditions of the classic drink

Why is eggnog a holiday tradition? Exploring fresh renditions of the classic drink

Eggnog dates back to medieval times when the British enjoyed a drink called "posset" that was made with hot milk, ale and spices. Later it became a drink for the wealthy who added expensive brandy or sherry. It was the alcohol that kept the milk from...
Published: 12/14/17
Wine of the week: Georges DuBoeuf 2017 Beaujolais Nouveau

Wine of the week: Georges DuBoeuf 2017 Beaujolais Nouveau

It would hardly be the holidays without Beaujolais nouveau.This French wine made with Gamay grapes appears on American shelves in mid November. It’s a vin de primeur, a wine made from the most recent harvest and fermented only a few weeks — barely gr...
Published: 12/14/17
The Phantom never dies, orchestra doings this week

The Phantom never dies, orchestra doings this week

PHANTOM REDUX: LOVE NEVER DIESTurns out, the Phantom survived that angry mob. We know that because the antihero of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical The Phantom of the Opera re-emerges in the 2010 sequel, Love Never Dies.It opens in 1907 New York, w...
Published: 12/13/17
Top things to do this week: Star Wars parties, comics Gilbert Gottfried, Michael Carbonaro

Top things to do this week: Star Wars parties, comics Gilbert Gottfried, Michael Carbonaro

NEW HOPE: Star Wars partiesWith the opening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the force of fan excitement is strong, so of course there are Star Wars parties this weekend. The giant movie complex Riverview 14 GDX is having celebration with characters from...
Published: 12/13/17