Romeo and Juliet: Stormy Opening Yesterday

What an unpredictable opening day for this show! Our director, John Nagle, has nerves of steel.

As background, on Friday (two days ago) there were predictions of isolated potentially strong thunderstorms for Saturday afternoon and evening.  Since we do not have an indoor venue option in the case of rain, we were looking at the possibility of cancelling the show on our opening night.

The Bridge Closing

Bob (Friar Lawrence) and I (Montague and Friar John) car pool up from Montpelier and yesterday as we motored up I-89 in relatively good shape time wise for our 3PM call in North Hero, we got a call from our excellent Stage Manager, Stephanie, informing us that the draw bridge connecting Grand Isle to North Hero was stuck in the up position, and that we needed to drive all the way up to Swanton and over to Alberg to connect with Route 2 to access the venue at Knight’s Point State Park from the other direction. This added another hour to the trip, but what choice was there? Stephanie assured us that the bridge would be fixed in “a couple hours” so it was probably not going to be a problem for our audience. But at that time, who knew?

In the extra hour of gorgeous driving Bob and I chuckled over the absurdity of the situation.  Being prone to doomsday pessimism when I get anxious, I was pretty sure the bridge would not be fixed in time for the show and this would be the show that got cancelled for a stuck drawbridge. It’s the kind of thing that might provide “sweet discourses in times to come” but sucks downright at the time.

As Bob and I drove on, at least the weather looked to be improving (it had been raining hard when I left my home in Plainfield around one o’clock).  The clouds dissipated and there was nothing but blue sky over the Adirondacks to our west.

By the time we arrived at Knight Point, the bridge was already fixed! It was one of those absurd bad news/good news moments, bad news that we had unnecessarily driven an extra hour, good news that the bridge was not going to prevent the audience from getting to the venue.

Sturm and Drang

The weather was still beautiful when the show began at six, some white puffy clouds against a pristine blue background. The temperature was about 70*, a welcome relief from the 90*+ humid weather from earlier in the week, especially for me as I wear a woolen three piece suit as Montague.

Darker clouds started moving in just after the balcony scene. The first cracks of thunder rumbled in the distance at the point the play turned dark: the killings of Mercutio and Tybalt. The effect was chilling.

We hurried though the intermission as the thunder continued and I think everyone was wondering the same thing—are we about to get slammed by a huge storm? When are they going to call it off? Early in the second half, six or eight audience members folded up their chairs and headed to the parking lot. Our director John, the man ultimately in charge of calling off the show, stood behind the audience and waited. He appeared much calmer than I was, as I obsessively tried to pull a Doppler image of the storm onto my iPad, to no avail. About this time, I started counting off the time lag between the lightning and the sound of the thunder. One hit was about a mile away, on Grand Isle to our east.

But the clouds were moving from west to east; that part of the storm was beyond us already and the sky immediately over us and to our west was lighter and even though we could see heavy downpours over Grand Isle, it never rained at the performance. 95% of the audience stuck it out, and they were rewarded with a unique experience of the play. As one example, an ironic gust of wind fluttered Juliet’s dress as she fell lifeless onto the bier. Lightning and thunder receded in the background as the prince concluded the play: “A glooming peace this morning with it brings.”

And then the audience gave us a standing ovation.

Yes, the actors were fantastic, the costumes are beautiful, and the designed sound adds much to the drama. I don’t want to take any credit away from any of the people who made these things happen.

But here’s the point of this post: great job, John.  You contained so much uncertainty and potential danger last night and in so doing provided your audience with an unforgettable experience of this master work.

It’s going to be a great run.

Written by Peter Young, Lord Montague/Friar John