Camp Jabberwocky took a new look at Romeo and Juliet

Kelsey Grousbeck

The studio at Camp Jabberwocky in Vineyard Haven was jumping with color, noise, and excitement Friday and Saturday as talented campers and counselors staged “Romeo and Juliet in Las Vegas.” It was “Romeo and Juliet” as never before, and a Las Vegas glitzier and zanier than in the wildest dreams.

The annual play is a high point in the camp’s first session, marked also by the Prom and July Fourth Parade where Jabberwocky members are popular high-energy participants. On Tuesday the camp would celebrate its 60th anniversary with a benefit show at the Tabernacle.

Camp Jabberwocky’s plays are among the Island’s lesser-known treasures. Enthusiastic audiences join in the fun-loving spirit. Clever and hilarious, the shows are deeply inspiring too. They send audience members home with admiration and respect for the campers and refreshed perspective that maybe being stuck in summer traffic isn’t all that tough.

Helen “Hellcat” Lamb, who died in 2011, began the camp for individuals with cerebral palsy and other disabilities in 1953. The camp has long been a well-liked part of the Vineyard community, holding two sessions each summer.

With bright Las Vegas backdrops the stage became a glittering casino peopled by high rollers and big spenders, shady ladies and sultry dancers, fast livers, gamblers, cute waitresses, and of course the ever-warring Montagues and Capulets. The star-crossed lovers played out their modern-day romance from desert to prison and the drive-through “Chapel of Love.” Though the ending was sad, cast and audience left happy, boogying to Rihanna’s “We Found Love.”

Camp director Johanna “JoJo” Romero de Slavy RN and assistant director Kristen “Sully” Sullivan St. Amour welcomed the crowd, then joined the on-stage shenanigans. Ms. Romero de Slavy created the choreography, including extraordinary wheelchair dances.

“The play is a lot of hard work by the campers and counselors,” Ms. Romero de Slavy said. “It’s a work of love they put together for the community.”

Sets by counselors Eliza Gowell of Edgartown and Susie Eckman were stunning — a massive Elvis mural, colorful “Welcome to Las Vegas” billboard, giant roulette wheel, martini glass, and slot machine.

Actors sported an array of over-the-top Vegas finery. There were sequins and frills, satin and lace, white tuxedos, colorful vests, top hats, tiaras, boas, dance gear and cowboy garb by longtime volunteer Madeline Way with Barra Peak.

Although a team effort, the show highlighted a number of campers. Faith Carter, as the nurse, counseled Juliet and sang a sweet duet with Peter O’Hara. “I really had fun!” she said later with a big grin.

Rapper Miles Brawn-Husband performed Kanye West’s “Runaway,” and Susan Harrington shared the role of Juliet with counselors while Sam Stoddard and Mr. Brawn-Husband were dashing Romeos. Cathy Discullo regaled viewers with a hilarious ventriloquist skit, counselor Adam Garland her wise-guy dummy.

Music by five talented friends of Jabberwocky created atmosphere, raising the production to a professional level. The musicians wove together echoes of everything from 60’s sounds to “Sweet Caroline” (the audience immediately began singing). Numbers including “Up All Night to Get Lucky,” “Poker Face,” and “Dancing in the Moonlight” were sung with gusto, keeping audience toes tapping and hands clapping.

A moving favorite was “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” the Elvis hit exquisitely sung by Nancy Jesseau. On stage, campers and counselors waltzed and swayed, dipped and twirled to the sentimental ballad. Few dry eyes remained in the house as wheelchairs and walkers were forgotten thanks to the dedicated counselors who lovingly made sure everyone got to take part in the joyful dance.

Islander Jacob Palches, a many-year counselor, ran the lights and sound, and gained kudos for repairing the giant martini glass.

Veteran counselors and stage writers Michael Leon and Adam Garland penned the script. After collaborating on last year’s “The Great Gatsby,” the co-writers “wanted to see how far we could push it,” according to Mr. Leon. They explored whether campers could learn complicated lines, and were gratified.

“Everyone is surprisingly talented,” said Mr. Leon who also co-directed with Nathaniel Basch-Gould.

“We both write for a living, but I’d rather write this than anything,” Mr. Garland added.

Like many counselors, the pair told of volunteering at camp several years ago and finding it so rewarding they returned again and again. Campers and counselors become friends, they said.

“After you do it once you never want to leave,” said Mr. Garland.

Later, cast and visitors shared treats, congratulations, and stories at an ice-cream social.

“We need much more of this in the world,” said one visitor, awed at the upbeat spirit, the counselors’ compassionate service to the campers, and the easy-going affection among them all.