True heart and compassion in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at NOVA Nightsky Theater

Shakespeare's tragic romance is performed outdoors just as the weather is turning, providing a cool evening of poetry under the stars.

NOVA Nightsky Theater is currently showing William Shakespeare’s tragic romance Romeo and Juliet. The abridged version is being performed outdoors just as the weather is turning, providing a cool evening of poetry under the stars.

The heartbreaking tale of two lovers from warring houses, who chose to remain together in death rather than live without the other, has been told for hundreds of years, but the theme of youth suffering at the hands of hate and pride remains hauntingly relatable today. Director Amanda Ranowsky makes a poignant comparison in the program notes to the classic and current political climate, stating

In the midst of this story’s conflict are two young people who just want to love and be loved. Perhaps they’ve been a little too sheltered from the realities of the world around them. Perhaps they’ve never really experienced love before, even from those who ought to give it to them. As too often happens in the real world, it’s innocents like them who pay the price for others’ greed and selfishness.

James Storen as Romeo and Fosse Thornton as Juliet in ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Photo by Heather Regan.

There were some slight adjustments for this production, with several characters defying gender norms, Lady Capulet and Lady Montague are merged into the characters Capulet and Montague, and the cast uses cell phones, a clever cover for the misfortune of being down an actor. The performer playing Juliet’s suitor, Paris, fell ill before opening and, instead of having someone read from the script on stage, Paris’ scenes were changed to phone conversations with Capulet. The last-minute switch was seamlessly done and would have appeared simply as a choice if an announcement had not been made.

The show was otherwise true to the original, with Shakespeare’s beautiful verse intact. The venue consisted of a tiered brick amphitheater, and minimal set pieces were used, eliminating the need for tedious scene changes, leaving the ensemble to rely primarily on the power of the language to tell their tale. And the players do not disappoint.

In the title roles of Romeo and Juliet, James Storen and Fosse Thornton were nicely matched and portrayed the pair with convincing chemistry and genuine emotion. Thornton was great as the naive but headstrong Juliet, who defies authority and takes command of her own fate. Storen and Thorton both fully succeed in conveying a passionate and sincere, albeit naive, romance, and their balcony scene is wonderfully playful and sweet.

Fosse Thornton as Juliet and James Storen as Romeo in ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Photo by Heather Regan.

Noelani Stevenson plays Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, determined to antagonize anyone outside of the Capulet circle. Stevenson portrays the hotheadedness well and gives off the vibe of high school bully itching to start a fight.

Adam Ressa is Mercutio (doubling as the Prince), who matches Tybalt in temper and is the most sharp-tongued of the work. Ressa delivers the lines quite naturally and his Queen Mab speech is perfectly playful and manic. Ressa’s Mercutio and Storen’s Romeo, along with Romeo’s friend and cousin Benvolio (Corey Ahearn), give off a strong brotherly bond in all their scenes together.

Capulet is brought to life by Jaclyn Robertson. Joining the role with Lady Capulet allowed for more complexity of the character, combining some of the compassion of the mother with the tyranny of the father. Robertson finds that balance of love, anger, frustration, and grief and plays the antagonist well.


TOP: Jaclyn Robertson as Capulet; ABOVE: James Storen as Romeo, Adam Ressa as Mercutio, and Corey Ahearn as Benvolio in ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Photos by Heather Regan.

Playing the comic relief in the role of the Nurse is Paul F. Brewster. This version has Nurse being the surviving husband of Juliet’s wet nurse, who after losing his own wife and child took to Juliet as his own. Brewster creates the affectionate, flighty, and talkative Nurse with ease, and any reservations I had about the transformation of the character were completely and happily squashed by Brewster’s delightful performance.

Friar Lawrence, played by Joe Crea, is the most heartbreaking of characters. He only wants to do what is right, he tries to help the young couple, but his attempts are in vain and ultimately cause the tragic end. Crea captures that recognition and his devastating remorse in his final scene with the line:

Miscarried by my fault, let my old life
Be sacrificed, some hour before his time,
Unto the rigour of severest law.

NOVA Nightsky’s Romeo and Juliet was a lovely experience. Shakespeare can easily be muddled and confusing if not done right, but the entire cast does a solid job delivering Shakespeare’s tragedy with true heart and compassion. The venue is outside with no seating, so the audience is encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets for comfort, making the setting perfect for a date night under the night sky (see what I did there?).

Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most-performed pieces for good reason. There is comedy, action, heartbreak, murder, and revenge, but at its core there is love. Love fights hate. The love of family, love of kinship, love of one’s partner; they are relatable to everyone and everything. And celebrating and encouraging that love is most important, above anything else.

Congratulations to NOVA Nightsky Theater for creating a great piece of live theater for the DC area to enjoy.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Romeo & Juliet presented by NOVA Nightsky Theater plays September 21-23, 2023, at Veterans Amphitheater, 10485-10489 Armstrong St, Fairfax, VA, and September 28-29 at Moca, 3550 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA. Tickets are $25.64 for general admission and $10.25 for students 18 and under (only at Veterans Amphitheater performances) and can be purchased at the event or online.

The program for Romeo and Juliet is online here.

Romeo Montague: James Storen, Juliet Capulet: Fosse Thornton, Friar Lawrence: Joe Crea, Capulet: Jaclyn Robertson, Nurse: Paul F. Brewster, Mercutio/Prince: Adam Ressa, Benvolio: Corey Ahearn, Tybalt: Noelani Stevenson, Paris/Sampson: Raju Sharma, Montague/Friar John: Pilar Bruyere, Apothecary/Abram/Page: Lexi Scanlan, Gregory/Capulet Servingman/2nd Watchman: Olivia Hinebaugh, 1st Watchman/Ensemble: Festus Aguai

Tech & Creative Team
Director: Amanda Ranowsky, Assistant Director: Andra Whitt, Stage Manager: Sarah Baczewski, Fight Choreography: Casey Kaleba, Fight Captain: Lexi Scanlan, Intimacy Choreographer: EJ Jonas, Lighting Design: Adam Ressa, Technical Support: Sarah Mournighan, Sound Technician: Sophie Atiyeh, Sound Crew: Kinsey Robertson, Props Head: Andra Whitt, Props Crew: Rebecca Kalan

Nova Nightsky Leadership
Artistic Director: Ward Kay, Producing Director: Jaclyn Robertson, Administrative Director: Sarah Baczewski, Design & Technical Director: Adam Ressa


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