Smiles (and tears) of a Summer Night: “Romeo and Juliet” hits the streets of Park Slope
O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou here outside a bar in Park Slope?
Perchance the Bard goes down better with some booze, outdoors in the soft summer air?
Many playgoers brought pints of Pabst Blue Ribbon and grilled cheese sandwiches to South Brooklyn Shakespeare’s Friday, July 25 production of “Romeo and Juliet,” staged on the blacktop of Fifth Avenue at 17th Street. Others went the BYOB route with picnic baskets provisioned with vino.
The street was closed to cars that night as part of the Summer Stroll, which was like a giant block party and was sponsored by the Park Slope Fifth Avenue Business Association.
The beer and sandwiches came from South, a nearby bar whose owners, Paul Molnar and Dee Byrd-Molnar, are themselves actors and directors, and South Brooklyn Shakespeare’s founders.
The show drew an estimated 500 attendees that night.
Juliet was played perfectly by NYU-Tisch- and Stella Adler Studio-trained actress Emma Wisniewski. Robert Shryock, trained at the Accademia dell’Arte in Italy, was just right as her Romeo.
Especially deserving of cheers, too, was Juliet’s hilarious nurse, played by Ashlie Atkinson.
Hunter Hoffman was magnetic as Mercutio and Michael Mullen was an intense Tybalt.
The theater founders directed the play. And Paul Molnar served as a capable Friar Laurence — the priest who tries to help love-struck Romeo and Juliet, but fails them miserably.
This cast is completely at home in Shakespeare World — which takes skill and training, and mastery of the language of poesy from four centuries ago.
Inhabiting the Bard’s realm is a job some actors cannot handle, even famous ones — like Ethan Hawke, who was panned for his recent performance in the title role of “Macbeth” at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center.
Wisniewski’s Juliet makes you weep — which is as it should be.
Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers is arguably the Western World’s best-known — and best-told — story of romance gone wrong.
Even folks who don’t go to live theater have seen Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes or Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey.
When the play is done well, as it was by South Brooklyn Shakespeare, it’s a thrill to see in a live performance. The surprising thing, with a story so utterly familiar, is how heartbreaking it is to watch.
Sweet teenager Juliet’s cruel father tells her to “hang, beg, starve, die in the streets” if she refuses to wed the man of his choice. Her wretched mother does nothing to shield Juliet from Bad Dad’s rage.
In the end, Juliet stabs herself to death over her true love’s lifeless body.
Tears in the audience’s beer? Yes, indeed.
Among the play’s lighter moments on July 25 were a couple caused by the al fresco setting.
At the beginning, when there was a bit of brawling by the cast to set the scene for the clash between the Montagues and Capulets, a tiny dog got agitated and started barking.
Later, an elderly bicyclist attempting to stay in the Fifth Avenue bike lane inadvertently rode into the performance space and got a laugh.
The weather gods smiled, which made the night that much better. Shadows cast on the blacktop from neighboring buildings kept the air cool before sunset. A breeze softly stirred.
The companionable crowd set up camp chairs and spread blankets around the theater troupe’s small stage.
The play was also performed on July 26 on Park Slope’s Seventh Avenue.
Molnar and Byrd-Molnar are on a mission to bring free Shakespeare with professional actors and crew to Park Slope.
To that end, the couple launched South Brooklyn Shakespeare in 2013. That year’s performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on a parking lot near their bar drew some 300 spectators.
To stage “Romeo and Juliet” this year, they raised more than $3,000 on funding site Kickstarter.
There’s still a chance to see the play if you missed the first two performances.
The third and final “Romeo and Juliet” is set for Friday night, Aug. 15. The tragedy will play out on the blacktop of Fifth Avenue at Dean Street during another Summer Stroll.
For audience members in need of booze that night, McMahon’s Public House is right nearby.
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