Last year, approximately 1,000 people saw SONDERimmersive’s remarkably inventive interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Through Yonder Window, in a parking garage at The Gateway complex in downtown Salt Lake City. With pandemic restrictions in place, the company meshed elements of immersive performance and theater-in-the-round in a production that effectively accommodated the difficult logistics of staging in a parking garage.
The fair town of Verona emerges anew in the company’s latest version of Through Yonder Window — this time, staged on the upper deck of the Alsco parking garage on the northeast side just past the intersection of 200 South and 500 East in downtown SLC. This expanded version is outstanding: a crisp, clear, absorbing, astute contemporary interpretation of eight Shakespearean characters. And, the logistics are handled excellently to accommodate a venue where the audience always remains in their vehicles and hears the narration and accompanying musical score through their car radio.
In conjunction with Utah Presents, SONDERimmersive is offering evening performances daily today (April 15) through Sunday, April 18.
While the show retains the foundational elements and creative contributors of its original version, this latest edition, directed and choreographed by Graham Brown, sharpens the most interesting underpinnings of the story’s well-known characters, largely through dance theater movement, an excellent score composed by Wachira Waigwa-Stone, and the writing of Brown, Rick Curtiss and Catherine Mortimer, as evidenced in the narration threaded throughout the one-hour production’s nine scenes.
We see the characters in four pairs, all affected and driven by the interplay of the challenges, sacrifices, conflicts and tensions of love, trust, honor, faith and loyalty: Romeo and Juliet, Friar Laurence and Nurse Maria, Mercutio and Tybalt, and Lord Montague and Lady Capulet.
Depending on where one’s vehicle has been directed to park, a specific group of the audience will see some characters more closely and directly in front than if they were positioned elsewhere on the deck. Regardless, it is relatively easy to have a full view of the outdoor production set, which has been blocked and staged in three sections. On the eastern edge, the audience is located in the church, which involves most of the action of the friar and Juliet’s nurse. The middle represents Verona and much of the action involving Mercutio and Tybalt. The western edge represents the Montague and Capulet residences and thereby most of the action involving Lord Montague and Lady Capulet. Romeo and Juliet move in and around all three sections of the set.
The show succeeds because while it adheres to the literary contours of its source material, the liberties that Brown and his team take make sense. Notable in this production are the characters of Mercutio and Tybalt, performed solidly by Martina Jorgensen and Amber Golden, respectively. This is a delightful casting decision, given that Shakespearean roles typically were taken by an all-male cast. The choreography and music exemplify the natural temperaments of both characters, whose presence in Shakespeare’s play during the first scene of the third act sets up the emotional pivot within the entire drama. There are interesting nuances to explore, as accentuated in the choreography executed by the actors. For instance, Mercutio’s lines in Shakespeare’s version evoke volatile, erratic shifts in emotion and tone. In fact, Mercutio is a character hounded by uncertainty, a point that recent portrayals by actors have emphasized Mercutio’s inner conflicts about his own sexual identity and the manner in which he responds to the news about Romeo’s relationship with Juliet. Tybalt also can be a surprise. One might think that the temperamental Tybalt would jump instantly at challenging Mercutio but Tybalt also acknowledges Verona’s social order even as Tybalt contemplates challenging Romeo to a duel as a nod to the propriety of maintaining chivalry and honor.
Thus, watching the movement drama unfold allows the audience to dig deeper into the qualities of the respective character’s propensity for judgment in dealing with the simmering conflict in Verona. Romeo (performed by Ed Corvera) is impetuous and rash but Juliet (performed by Nadia Sine) is focused and significant in taking her place over that of her lover, purposefully directing Romeo toward matrimony.
Through Yonder Window comes at the right moment, as we near the inflection point of dealing effectively with the pandemic where social distancing was essential. Romeo and Juliet is versatile for its contemporary and universal relevance. Six years ago, Syrian actor Nawar Bulbul united teens in separate locations — a hospice for Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan and the bombed besieged community of Homs in Syria — through Skype in a production reimagining Romeo and Juliet, turning respective spaces into makeshift stages.
True to the history behind one of the world’s most recognized plays, SONDERimmersive follows the spirit. Shakespeare adapted the original source material for his play from Arthur Brooke’s 1562 story, with significant liberties. For example, Shakespeare’s Juliet, who is three years younger than Brooke’s heroine, is direct in her sexual and matrimonial expectations. Likewise, Juliet’s significance is elevated in this deftly executed streamlined interpretation of the Shakespearean drama, which expands this particular dynamic across other principal characters in the drama of Verona.
The recorded narration, mainly covered by Tyler Fox (who also portrays the friar) succinctly sets up each of the nine scenes, along with several segments of narration representing the characters of Romeo, Juliet and Tybalt. The cast includes Mara Lefler (Nurse Maria), Catherine Mortimer (Lady Capulet) and Joseph Wheeler (Lord Montague). Waigwa-Stone’s first-class musical score includes Laurie Hite (violin, viola, vocal), Will Roney (guitar), Mason Peterson (tenor sax) and Gus Bogdanow (trumpet).
After 2020, when SONDERimmersive had to postpone starting dates for its productions, the new Through Yonder Window is opening as scheduled. Later this month, the company premieres a pandemic-safe dinner theater production inspired in part by the writings of Ernest Hemingway and set in the Prohibition Era, The Lost Generation, which will take place at The CytyByrd Cafe in downtown SLC.
The company is offering several productions through the remainder of 2021, including a new production at the Dreamscapes attraction in The Gateway complex (which was the site for the popular show The Carousel in 2020) and the return of The Chocolatier, a show that had a new version previewed just prior to the March 2020 shutdown due to the pandemic.
Tickets for Through Yonder WIndow are priced at $45 per vehicle and are available at this Utah Presents link.