Aug 16, 2016

Romeo & Juliet performed in ancient California rancho

The Balcony Scene, Romeo & Juliet

Last Friday night I experienced Shakespeare in a completely new and wonderful way--thanks to a fantastic production by the theatrical company We Players, which uses historic or other significant sites as venues--they've done Hamlet on Alcatraz, the Oydssey on Angel Island, Macbeth at Fort Point and Ondine at Sutro Baths. 

Right now and through September 25 they're presenting Romeo & Juliet at the historic Petaluma Adobe (about an hour north of San Francisco). Beginning in the 1830s and well into the 1840s, Rancho Petaluma was the largest privately-owned adobe building in what would soon be known as California. It was also ranch headquarters for the region’s most important early historic figure, General Mariano Vallejo. Today, it’s known as Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, and a visit here is like being transported back to the great rancho era. Most of the adobe bricks are original, farm animals roam the property, authentic period furniture and equipment fill the rooms, and it’s not unusual to spot coyotes or foxes in the surrounding grasslands and oak-studded hills. 

Romeo & Juliet takes place around the grounds of the Adobe -- and what a backdrop that was! Many of the original artifacts were used; Mercutio, for example, jumped on and off an ancient hay cart while fencing. The audience moves from place to place with the actors (some people sat on the ground or on provided small folding stools, and others like me preferred to stand), and at times we became part of the play itself. For the masked ball we were provided with black lace masks, ate hors d'ouevres passed on trays by actors, and danced with abandon. At times actors stood amongst us and shouted at characters in the play--when the prince banished Romeo from Verona, for instance, 3 or 4 actors standing with us shouted "Free him! Let him go!" So we did, too. 

Juliet on her funeral bier

The play started at 6 and was over at 9 - there was no break. The world grew slowly dark around us. The final scenes -- when we walked as mourners behind Juliet's coffin, for example -- were deep dusk. Lanterns were lit for her bier. The experience was simply extraordinary.

One caution: when the sea breeze came in through the Petaluma Gap about 8 p.m. (the sea breeze that cools off Sonoma's grapes each evening, contributing to the unparalleled excellence of our local wine) -- it got really cold. Despite the fact that it's August, I should have brought heavy fleece, not a light jean jacket, and gloves. So be prepared when you come.

To learn more and purchase tickets: or visit We Players on Facebook.

Marriage of Romeo & Juliet

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