It's called Shakespeare in the Ruins - a brisk and colorful production of Romeo and Juliet performed by the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company at a historic site in Ellicott City.
The Patapsco Female Institute, once a school for young women, is now a picturesque ruin. Inside a right angle formed by two exterior stone walls, the Chesapeake troupe has set up a plain wooden balcony and a low platform that serves as a stage.
The play, acted in the open air, has something of the flavor of a performance at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.
Romeo and Juliet is a story of "star-crossed lovers," but it is also a story of gang warfare and death. The Montagues and the Capulets, two families in Renaissance Verona, are locked in a blood feud. There are frequent street clashes between the young men of the two clans.
Old Montague's teen-age son, Romeo, and his friends, Benvolio and Mercutio, decide to crash a party given by the Capulets. There Romeo meets Juliet who, though not yet 14, has been promised by her father to a nobleman called Paris. The impetuous teen-agers fall in love and are secretly married the next day.
In a street brawl, Mercutio duels with a Capulet follower named Tybalt. Romeo's attempt to stop the fight distracts Mercutio for an instant, and Tybalt runs him through. Romeo, overcome by guilt, fights Tybalt and kills him. For this he is exiled from Verona.
Juliet, keeping the marriage secret, is being prepared for her wedding to Paris. The lovers try to find each other, but a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications brings the show to a tragic climax.
Director Ian Gallanar has rehearsed his actors meticulously.
Movements, gestures, facial expressions, attitudes - all are thoroughly worked out and do a great deal to put the archaic dialogue across. There is a lot of comedy in Romeo and Juliet (some of it off-color) and the cast plays it to the maximum.
Shakespeare's flights of poetic language require a style of declamation these players haven't achieved, but thanks to Gallanar and his text coaches, Christopher Marino and Kim Martin-Cotton, they all speak their lines clearly. This is a rare and admirable thing in a time when rapid, incomprehensible dialogue is the norm on television and in the movies.
As Juliet, Valerie Dowdle adopts the inflections and attitudes of a contemporary teen-age girl - anachronistic, maybe, but it gives life to her character. Patrick Kilpatrick makes an attractive and energetic Romeo.
Shakespeare depicts Mercutio as a high-spirited young man, bubbling with humor. Dan O'Brien plays him with plenty of dash but lacks the comic touch. Wayne Willinger is properly truculent as Tybalt, and Adam Mondschein brings conviction to the role of the good-hearted Benvolio.
B.J. Gailey's jovial and animated Friar Lawrence is a vivid characterization, but one expects a clergyman to have a spiritual dimension. Gailey doesn't supply it. Frank Moorman is authoritative as the Prince of Verona, and Lesley Malin gives a polished performance as Lady Capulet.
The most memorable performances are delivered by two secondary characters. As a saucy, vociferous Nurse, Mary Ann Walsh makes the most of every scene. So does Charles Drexler as Peter and Sampson (this production rolls two servants into one).
Drexler has few lines, but he gets many laughs with his facial expressions and body language.
Jeanne Robin and Kristina Lambdin have outfitted the cast in lavish period costumes. The frequent passages of swordplay have been convincingly choreographed by Chris Niebling.
Larksong, a small vocal group wearing Renaissance garb, sings madrigal songs in English, French and Italian before the show and during the intermission. Their music makes a pleasant contribution to an enjoyable summer entertainment.
The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company presents "Romeo and Juliet" at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5:30 p.m. Sunday through June 15 at Patapsco Female Institute, 3691 Sarahs Lane, Ellicott City. General admission $15 and $5 for children ages 8 to 13 with an adult. A matinee is scheduled at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, with tickets priced at $12 for senior citizens and students. Free parking is available in the Howard County Courthouse lot on Court House Drive. Reservations and information: 410-752-3994 or www.chesapeakeshakespeare.com.