Romeo stands on the edge of a crowded party, his tattoos illuminated by the flashing red and green lights. As he smokes a cigarette and speaks of newfound love and hope, a song by Florence and the Machine plays in the background.
Senior Kate Royal’s vision of “Romeo and Juliet” is not encompassed by a trip to Shakespeare’s era. Instead, Royal, director of the Veg S.O.U.P. and Cothurnus-sponsored production of “Romeo and Juliet,” breathes new life into the characters and prose of the well-known play by setting it in the 21st century.
“I’m kind of attempting to relate it to the audience in a way that pulls off the veil of ‘This is “Romeo and Juliet”’ and that archaic kind of pedestal we put it on to make it something very tangible, very relatable,” Royal said.
Royal follows the classic storyline and dialogue of the play in which Romeo and Juliet fall in love, are separated by raucous family feuds and finally kill themselves due to a misunderstanding and their love for one another. The performance also features contemporary dress, weaponry, music and social interaction, and touches on such themes as drug use, sex and youth in unexpected ways.
While blatantly placing the play in a recognizable setting certainly contributes to Royal’s goal of making “the audience reconsider how they look at [‘Romeo and Juliet’],” it is also set apart by the actors’ raw dedication and intensity.
Junior Luke Martin’s portrayal of Romeo brings out the famed character’s excitable, hopeless romantic disposition in a way that is not sickeningly sweet but instead so believable that Martin’s Romeo is perpetually likable.
Martin said he developed his version of Romeo through his own personal experiences.
“I was thrown back into my own 16-or-17-year-old self and the first time I fell in love. I realized that everything that I did feel at that point was as extreme as [what Romeo feels],” he said. “That is what I think is so beautiful about this play. It’s a play about kids growing up.”
Simultaneously, senior Julia Masotti constructed a sensible, approachable Juliet – a girl who is struggling to make real decisions and reason out her sudden love, eager to experience life and love for the first time.
“It’s been a challenge, but it’s been kind of a beautiful challenge because it’s always fun to work against what you think people are going to expect for the character,” Masotti said.
The chemistry between Martin and Masotti’s characters culminates in a combination of obvious passion and longing as well as a sense of newness and youth in their scenes together. From infatuation to distress, Martin and Masotti are both strikingly expressive and authentic throughout the performance.
One of the other devices Royal employs is dividing the characters not just on the familial lines of Capulet versus Montague, but also by gender. Women play all of the Capulet roles and men play all of the Montagues.
Romeo and Juliet’s unspoiled, optimistic youth contrasts with their friends and families, whose characters are updated to 21st century standards.
Lady Capulet, played by senior Melyssa Hall, is a haughty, rich mother who will have nothing but the best for her child. Benvolio, played by junior Mike Kedenburg, and Mercutio, by senior Sean Leigh, are young jokesters and supportive friends with an affinity for partying.
While there were some points in the show where dialogue was rushed or unclear in favor of emotion, the actors were successful for the most part in melding Shakespeare’s prose with cohesive characters. Also, with a run time of over two and a half hours, attending the show becomes a rather large commitment.
Through a combination of directorial devices and strong acting, Royal’s “Romeo and Juliet” is remarkable in ways that a traditional production of the play may not have been. It allows audience members to see a reflection of their own lives.
“Romeo and Juliet” is running Thursday Oct. 18 at 8 p.m., Friday Oct. 19 at 10 p.m. and Saturday Oct. 20 at 12 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the Robert Sinclair Black Box Theatre. Tickets, with the exception of the sold out Saturday night show, are $5 and available at the Brodie Box Office.