Tonight we saw The Aquila Theatre Company‘s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Overall, I liked it. It was generally well staged and acted — a little gimmicky, but a good production overall.

Let’s start with the gimmick: the production begins with the actors’ asking audience members to draw the parts out of little bags and thus assigning each actor his or her part. This process, says the program, creates “newfound excitement and drama” each night, since one of the guys could be assigned the part of Juliet and one of the women could be Romeo. That didn’t happen tonight, much to the dismay of the students sitting behind us. We has a 50-year-old Romeo and a female Juliet.

PJ is extremely skeptical that this “game of chance” is on the up and up. He thinks it’s rigged, and I have to admit that I agree, especially since each actor has his or her own bag that s/he carries out to the audience — why not just have one bag if all of the parts are equally assignable? It just feels too much like a magician’s trick. And it’s gimmicky.

The leading actors in this production were the ones playing Juliet (Basienka Blake on our night) and the actor playing Mercutio, the nurse, and Paris (Andrew Schwartz), both of whom were excellent. The actor playing Romeo was also good. The other three actors played lesser roles, though one of them was particularly bad in parts.

The production was obviously staged to be performed in a smalled theater-in-the-round. The set design consisted largely of a stage on the stage. Costumes were minimal. When actors weren’t “onstage,” they usually sat to the side of the onstage stage and were thus visible to the audience. This had the effect of foregrounding the theatricality of the performance, which is something I almost always like. I just about always delight in this kind of thing, when productions force the audience to remember that this is theater, not reality.

On the whole, this was a good production. I enjoyed most of it — the three exceptions being one particular actor’s amateurish performance, the production’s attempt to breeze through the play too rapidly, and its efforts to make the play more comic. This latter attempt usually worked, but when it didn’t (like when the “bad” actor laughed in an overly evil way that sounded cartoonish) it really didn’t.

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