For this review of Romeo and Juliet, presented by the Foodbank Players this past weekend and running the next two, let us start up close then pull the camera back and consider all the stages and all the performers. At the center is the space at 1435 Webster Street where these eager, earnest, joy-driven actors perform.
Julian Hensley and Anika Jensen are so good as the star-crossed lovers, bringing enthusiasm for the text and each other, making the audience smile and sigh and, yes, then cry. They are surrounded and supported by their wonderful castmates—Richard Bunker as Lord Capulet and Martie Muldoon as Nurse are especially outstanding, with Jennifer Morrill bringing music to the story in small, perfect, beautiful notes.
The play is lifted by so many wonderful moments—the silly dance by Frida Schiesser as Benvolio, Caitlin Kenney’s beautiful, crazed turn as Mercutio, Luis Araquistain’s impressive donning of hats as both the Prince and the Apothecary, and Bill Brobeck’s final heart-wrenching confession as Friar Lawrence. Each actor in the company contributes beauty and craft—Kristina Buendida as silly Penelope, Zoey Bruce as the fierce Tybalt, Kate Rockwell as the loving Lady Capulet, Lisa Appleyard as the outraged Lady Montague, and Emily Krayn, terrific as the jilted County Paris. Even Katya Schiesser as Rosalind, in a special, small surprise scene, adds charm and sparkle.
But consider as well the play beyond the play. This band of thespians puts on shows primarily in the Healing Garden, which deserves recognition in the program. Once a parking lot, now a place to eat, drink, and see remarkable local art, it’s on the corner of a street in a neighborhood full of adorable theatrical extras. People wander through during rehearsal and pause in awe of the live art on display. During the shows, cars drive by, planes zip above, and a stream of adorable gawkers stop and look over the fence to see what’s going on. Many of them wander inside, sit for a bit, seeing Shakespeare for maybe the first time, or the most recent. Eager little kids plop on the benches joining the circus happening in front of them. While not the Globe of old, what happens in the Healing Garden when the play’s the thing is close to what Will brought about—people, everyday remarkable people, modern groundlings, adding live theater to their lives.
Then if we imagine a camera on a drone, let us float above and acknowledge the miracle—this little amateur theater company, supported by local businesses and people, buffeted by a grant from the Alameda Public Arts Commission, is doing all of this for the broader community, many of whom need help putting food on the table for themselves and their families. People dress up in fetching costumes, reciting lines written 400 years ago, amidst the cacophony of urban theater, all for a cause. Alameda, take a bow, Webster Street curtsey, and the Foodbank Players hold hands to heart, for you are all incredible.
Romeo and Juliet will be performed Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., September 23, 24, 30 and October 1, with a special performance on the Bruns Stage at the Cal Shakes theater on Friday, September 29 at 7 p.m. For more information, visit the Foodbank Players website and the @thefoodbankplayers instagram page.
Gene Kahane is the founder of the Foodbank Players, a lifelong teacher, and former Poet Laureate for the City of Alameda. Reach him at [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Gene-Kahane.