Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park performs 'Romeo and Juliet' at The Common

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Photo Gallery | PHOTOS: Romeo and Juliet rehearsal in the Pittsfield Commons

PITTSFIELD — Two teenagers marry behind their parents back; the union ends in the young couple's tragic deaths.

The one-sentence summation of "Romeo and Juliet" may capture the gist of William Shakespeare's most recognized play, but it over-simplifies a storyline of complex relationships, such as between the star-crossed lovers and their feuding families, the Capulets and Montagues.

Director Enrico Spada and his cast hope to drive home that complexity starting Thursday, July 16, when the second season of Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park opens at the newly built pavilion of The Common on First Street.

Park shift

Following a successful inaugural 2014 season at Springside Park, Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park — which Spada founded — has relocated to The Common on First Street/Route 7 north (in coordination with the city's Office of Cultural Development). Plus, it has expanded its schedule to 12 nightly shows over three, four-day weekend stretches from July 16 through Aug. 2.

The 8 p.m. performances are free, courtesy of several area businesses, philanthropic foundations, the city, and an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign.

In casting Joey Labrasca, 17, of Lee, as Romeo, and Chatham, N.Y.'s Fiona Barnett-Mulligan, 18, as Juliet, Spada knew they could handle the challenging roles.

"In auditions, how they related to the adult characters was important and the actors had to be close to the age of Romeo and Juliet," he said. "I knew Joey and Fiona were right for the parts."

For Barnett-Mulligan, Lord Capulet finding out Juliet has secretly tied the knot with Romeo escalates the strain on the father-daughter relationship.

"It's a hard scene, heavy with emotion," Barnett-Mulligan said. During rehearsals, "Chris gets me to cry in the scene and that's not easy to do."

The young actress is referring to Pittsfield native Chris Brophy, cast as Lord Capulet who shows a range of emotions with Juliet.

"There is pain, hurt, frustration, anger; he let's you into his mind and heart," Brophy said.

LaBrasca finds Romeo also runs the gamut of feelings throughout the play.

"I've been a fan of both Romeo and Hamlet because they really encompass a wide range of emotions — they are fun [roles] to play," said LaBrasca, a senior at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington.

The emotions must be genuine, including when LaBrasca and Barnett-Mulligan kiss on stage.

"If the feeling is there, it will read well with the audience," LaBrasca said.

Outdoor theater

At The Common, the audience sprawls out on beach blankets or sits in folding chairs.

Outdoor theater proved a hit last year when Pittsfield Shakespeare staged "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Springside Park for eight nights. That show was seen by more than 1,500 people, according to organizers.

Brophy and Barnett-Mulligan are among the five returning performers from the debut season and they welcome the chance bring Shakespeare to the masses at The Common.

"To be walking down First Street and see the [pavilion] lit up, people will stumble upon Shakespeare and find out it's free," Brophy said.

"I want to make Juliet relatable to teenagers," said Barnett-Mulligan. "I want to show them this isn't a stuffy old Shakespeare play, but about teenage love."

After initially rehearsing at Zion Lutheran Church next door to The Common, the cast of "Romeo and Juliet" moved to the pavilion a week before opening night and found the outdoor rehearsals provide a rare interaction with the public.

"People have been coming up to us throughout the day asking about the show, sharing their enthusiasm for it," Spada said. "Some have told us about their experiences on stage, some have given us advice on how to make the best of the space, some have even given us advice on staging."

He added. "The whole point of Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park is to be a community event, bring people together, get them excited about Shakespeare and live theater."


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