Jasper Does Spoleto - part 2 The Globe's Romeo and Juliet by Haley Sprankle


There I sat, at the tender age of seven, watching Baz Luhrmann’s 1990s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet while following along with the text to make sure the actors didn’t veer too far from the source material.

During my most awkward stage, at the age of 13, I went to the local high school’s production of the same classic play after reading it in class.

At 16, I saw a talented friend of mine, Danielle Peterson, beautifully perform the titular female role in the Lab Theatre at USC.

In the height of my teenage angst, at the age of 17, I watched Luhrmann’s rendition again on Valentine’s Day because “love isn’t a reality,” and because it had become a personal favorite of mine throughout the years.

Fast forward to May 2015 and I’m experiencing the Globe Theatre’s touring production of the same play that had so ingratiated itself into my life at Charleston’s Spoleto Festival and I am in awe.

Most every moderately educated person in the world knows the tale of the star-crossed lovers who (spoiler alert) commit suicide to preserve their love despite their families’ brawling hatred for one another. This allows great room for interpretation when producing the renowned play, as most Shakespearian works do. Directors Dominic Dromgroole and Tim Hoare masterfully crafted this production for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s travelling company and had a brilliant cast to support their concept.


With just a cast of eight, on a bare-bones set, and with simplistic costume pieces similar to an indie-folk band’s attire with some added Shakespearian accents, the directors were able to transform the stage and present the text so eloquently.

Each actor, sans the two portraying the titular roles (Samuel Valentine and Cassie Layton), assumed multiple parts, distinguished by their garb, accents, and physicality. This automatically sparked my interest as I tried to find the pattern in which the directors grouped characters for each actor. Seemingly, with the patterns I detected, the pairings either highlighted the juxtaposition between characters, or the vast thematic similarities between them.

Steffan Donnelly took on the roles of Mercutio, Prince, and Apothecary, representing a character in control of the immediate present, a character in control of life, and a character in control of death. Matt Doherty adopted the roles of Tybalt, Paris, and Lord Montague, all of which are men who hinder Juliet’s pursuit of Romeo; Tybalt for his hate, Paris for his own pursuits, and Lord Montague for his name. Steven Elder played Lord Capulet and Friar John (the Friar who failed to deliver the urgent message to Romeo), the two men directly culpable for Juliet’s failed love. Sarah Higgins portrayed Nurse, Lady Montague, and Balthazar and Hannah McPake portrayed Lady Capulet and the Chorus. These characters, while vastly important in the performances, are often victims of their circumstance. Finally, Tom Kanji adopted the roles of Friar Laurence and Benvolio, the two characters who act merely out of benevolence.


The minimalist aesthetic was visually and thematically pleasing. The set was a mere skeleton, enabling actors to move freely about the space without the restriction of location. This also played into the directors’ concept that Romeo and Juliet are representative of the whole world, not simply two young lovers. The uniform white, khaki, and oxford costumes each actor donned eased the flow when switching from character to character while matching the set’s rustic, earthy vibe.

The directors also cut the play so that scenes, featuring Romeo and Juliet’s separate lives, happen in tandem with each other. This allowed the audience to draw parallels between the young lovers’ expressed thoughts and ideas while also quickening the pace. One of the most impressive actions resulting from this tactic was a beautiful transition where Kanji changed from Friar Laurence to Benvolio before the audiences’ eyes at the drop of a robe.

Overall, the production was beautifully crafted with each actor a master of her and his performance. I was completely entranced for the entirety of the show, from beginning to end. While I am still merely in the beginning of my theatrical training and knowledge of Shakespeare, the little seven-year-old girl inside me following along with the text gave this production her seal of approval.

The production runs May 27-June 7. Call the Dock Street Theatre box office at (843) 577-7183 for tickets!

Jasper Does Spoleto -- Reviews, Recountings, & Recommendations, part 1 in a series

This year, Jasper has a number of editors and writers on the Spoleto scene in hot and humid Charleston, SC, bringing readers up-to-the-minute reviews and recommendations for how best to program your daytrips and overnighters to the Holy City for some of the best international art to come this way since, well, last year's festival. Also, in the great tradition of fringe festivals worldwide, Piccolo Spoleto also offers the opportunity to see works by both emerging and established artists, both local and from fields afar, for a ticket price that is often significantly less than the often-hefty priced Spoleto festival entrance fees.



A Streetcar Named Desire

Jasper's Picks for this year's festival included the Scottish Ballet's new interpretation of Tennessee Williams' classic Southern drama, A Streetcar Named Desire.

Set to a sultry score by Peter Salem, Scotland's national ballet company cast a spell over the audience at the College of Charleston's Sottile Theatre with an adaptation that was so engaging if was difficult to pay attention to the quality of the dancers' techniques. But when this reviewer could remember to cast a critical eye toward such important building blocks to a successful performance as feet articulation, port de bras, positioning, and execution, she found there was little lacking in the caliber of dancer this company brought to the stage.

A minimalist set consisting primarily of clever lighting and rectangular boxes, some also lit, allowed for  a fluidity that progressed the story of Blanche DuBois, her sister Stella, Stella's man Stanley, and the literally deconstructed Belle Reve plantation along at a surprisingly rapid pace.  With the women costumed in silky chemises and the men in long pants and classic sitting-on-the-stoop-having-a-smoke-and-drinking-a-beer undershirts, and the Charleston humidity fresh on this viewer's bare shoulders, it was easy to be transported to the French Quarter of New Orleans, to find oneself listening for a distant and melancholy saxophone tune to drift by on the wind, to take a deep breath and find filé on the nose. Such was the success of the Scottish Ballet's authentic adaptation of this classic tale. - cb




Sleeping Beauty

Italy’s Carlo Colla and Sons Marionette Company charmed festival audiences with its production of Cinderella in 2010, and returned this year to share their performance of another classic fairy-tale,  Sleeping Beauty.

With 165 meticulously handcrafted puppets and costuming and scenery stunningly hand-painted to complement the story, Eugenio Monti Colla recounts this tale of Aurora with her curses and blessings bestowed according to the original 1697 telling by Charles Perrault, The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood.   

Truly a story for the ages, the performance leaves children mesmerized by the lively marionettes and the tale they weave, and adults enchanted by beauty and intricacy of the tiny actors, which are works of art in and of themselves. - cb


Coming Up -- Haley Sprankle writes about her love affair with Romeo and Juliet, Kyle Petersen writes about opera and chamber music, and Cindi Boiter writes about two Piccolo Spoleto events

Spoleto Review -- Rosanne Cash by Bob Jolley

Rosanne Cash Rosanne Cash has chops—both hard-earned and genetic. Although not often thought of as a superstar herself, the oldest daughter of Johnny Cash crawled from working backstage as a wardrobe assistant for her dad, to being a background singer, finally a soloist, and ultimately the winner of a Grammy and nine other nominations, 11 number one country hit singles,21 top 40 country singles, and two gold records. Not too shabby.

Performing at Spoleto Festival USA on Sunday night in the TD Ameritrade Arena, Cash delivered an assortment of new material from an upcoming album, but focused on paying homage to the artists who have come before her—some of them friends and family members—many of the songs from her 2009 album The List. The List came about because at age 18 her dad had given her a list of 100 seminal songs in country and American music—she picked 12 to record with folks like Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, and Jeff Tweedy.

If only one word could be used to describe the concert it would be “professional.” Performing with her band of solid musicians, the Keith to her Mick and the Big Man to her Bruce is her husband, co-writer, lead guitarist, producer, and partner John Leventhal. Throughout the evening, the two bounced off one another both musically and with the kind of quips only a husband and wife team can deliver.

Highlights of the night included, from The List, "Long Black Veil," recorded in 1959 by Lefty Frizzell, written by Danny Dill, Marijohn Wilkin, and covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, and Joni Mitchell on the first Johnny Cash show in 1969, as well as The Band, Mick Jagger, Joan Baez, Emilou Harris and Dave Matthews. Also from The List was Dylan’s 1963 "Girl from the North Country," re-recorded in a duet with Johnny Cash in 1969. Other List songs performed included "Five Hundred Miles" by Hedy West and a take on the traditional "Motherless Children."

Of course Cash’s show would have not been complete without a rendition of her 1981 Billboard country chart number one, and Billboard pop chart number 22, "Seven Year Ache."

Rosanne Cash performing Seven Year Ache

Bob Jolley - publisher, Muddy Ford Press



Spoleto Reviews; JOHNNYSWIM and Le Grand C

JOHNNYSWIM The singer songwriter duo JOHNNYSWIM seemed to be as surprised to be performing at this year’s Spoleto Festival USA as we were to hear them. To their credit, neither partner in the married couple band acted as if they were too cool for school, repeatedly referencing how they had been looking forward to the gig “for months” and recalling that their last performance was at a bar in Burbank for an audience of three. This isn’t that surprising. It’s not that they weren’t good—they just weren’t quite good enough to be playing a coveted concert in the College of Charleston’s Cistern Yard. (A quick Internet search shows that the couple played SXSW in March and will have a follow-up concert in Tryon, NC tonight.)


In all fairness, Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano (daughter of disco legend Donna Summer) put on a sweet and lovely show, albeit filled with a good deal of chatter (and the show still barely stretched over 60 minutes), and they were able to mix in a few original tunes that shined. But the limitations in Ramirez’s guitar work and the lack of range in Sudano’s beautiful voice make the duo barely local venue material, much less headlining at an international arts festival. Granted, Ramirez’s strong vocals proved entertaining. And both partners are attractive with pleasant stage presence.  And certainly the setting under the moss-draped live oaks of the Cistern was enchanting.  But given that the team has only released a single EP and don’t expect to release an album for at least another 12 months, an act with a little more experience might have been more in keeping with Spoleto Festival USA quality standards.


Le Grand C

For example, the French acrobatic company Compagnie XY who also premiered at this year’s festival with multiple shows of Le Grand C, gave a jaw-dropping performance that packed in as much detail (think carefully choreographed human traffic patterns made to look like chaos that develops into machinations reminiscent of gears and cogs in a perfectly tuned instrument) and subtlety (the gentlemen gallantly smoothing the red skirts of their fellow female acrobats who have just returned to earth from being four persons high in the air) as it did feats of daring do. With 17 performers ranging in size from several tiny-though-immensely-muscular women to a dude with a bit of a belly who clearly tops 200 pounds, the team stays in almost constant motion—sometimes performing in duos or triads or larger groups, and sometimes performing as a single unit. The clever inclusion of French music—from the haunting dirge-like composition that accompanies the opening stunt performed in subdued lighting to another series of stunts in which the entire group sings—adds tremendously to the changing character and atmosphere the group creates for the various stunts being performed.

The 75 minutes of Le Grand C fly by as quickly as the performers (literally) fly through the air in places. This is a uniquely entertaining show not to be missed.


-Cindi Boiter