The first time Bird-on-a-Cliff Theatre Company performed Romeo and Juliet at the outdoor stage in Woodstock, Juliet wore jeans and sneakers, and the set was painted black and white. The second time, the Montagues and Capulets were Iraqis and Americans. This summer, when the star-crossed lovers appear on the outdoor stage of the Comeau Property for the third time in Bird-on-a-Cliff’s 23-year history, the play will have a universal setting.
The production runs at the Comeau Property from July 27 through September 2, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, at 5:30 p.m. Director Christopher Martin, founder of New York City’s Classic Stage Company, has given the cast costumes that suggest the billowing forms of Renaissance clothing without the fussy details such as tights and doublets.
In Bird-on-a-Cliff’s first production on the outdoor stage, founders Elli Michaels and David Aston-Reese played the leads in The Taming of the Shrew, wearing full Elizabethan costumes. “It was expensive and hot,” Michaels recalled. This year’s costumes will be made from T-shirt material.
“My job is to represent the playwright,” said Martin. “No one’s coming in on a motorcycle or running around naked. Our costumes are as specific as Shakespeare’s. He didn’t know what people wore in Italy.” However, Martin does make use of masks. His directing forms the cast into an ensemble, with the characters emerging naturally from the chorus that delivers the opening speech, usually attributed to the prince.
The two stars, David Remple and Yasemin Eti, are students of Martin’s who appeared last year as Bassanio and Portia in Bird-on-a-Cliff’s Merchant of Venice. They were so good, Aston-Reese and Michaels decided they would be perfect as Romeo and Juliet. Martin, who has a house in Chichester, was persuaded to come along as director. He is no stranger to Woodstock, where his rock opera Quasimodo premiered in 1987 at the Byrdcliffe Barn. In the 90s, he was here to present his adaptations of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
“I’m known as ‘CDD,’” said Martin. “‘Cheerless, dark, and deadly’ is a line from Lear. In the city, I’ve done Titus Andronicus and Peer Gynt.” He’s also directed plays internationally, often in languages he doesn’t know, from Latvian to Korean. Even without understanding the words, he said, “You can tell if they have the right idea about a scene. The best actors I ever worked with were in Turkey.”
Eti, who plays Juliet, is a Turkish actress based in New York City. Justin Waldo, a local actor who also studied with Martin, returns as Mercutio, and Terry Boyer has the part of Benvolio. Michaels is playing the intermittently comic role of the nurse, and Aston-Reese is Friar Lawrence. Other cast members are Bill Solley, Robert Sheridan, Bethany Goldpaugh Brown, Armand Eisen, Taylor Watson Seupel, and Danielle Shimshoni.
Outdoor Shakespeare is child-friendly. People bring blankets and picnics, and kids don’t have to sit up straight in seats, while the lively action onstage keeps their attention. Admission is by donation, so if the young ones just can’t handle the show, their parents haven’t spent a load of money for nothing. In fact, said Michaels, “We’re getting a new generation of audience — young families. People who came 23 years ago as kids are coming back with their own kids.”
Bird-on-a-Cliff Theatre Company presents Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet from July 27 through September 2, on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, at 5:30 p.m. All performances will be on the outdoor stage at the Comeau Property, 45 Comeau Drive, Woodstock, just off Tinker Street near the center of town. Blankets, chairs, and picnics are welcome. Admission is free, with a $10 donation suggested. For information, call (845) 247-4007 or visit birdonacliff.org.