Antic Shakespeare presents modern-day, gender-bent 'Romeo and Juliet'

<p>Special to The Chronicle</p>

Special to The Chronicle

Shakespeare’s infamous star-crossed lovers will come to Duke Valentine’s Day weekend. Antic Shakespeare, a small theater company on campus, will perform Romeo and Juliet in a contemporary setting while staying true to the play’s text. With its only major production of the semester, Antic Shakespeare hopes to offer a new take on the tragedy, making it more accessible to college-age students.

“A lot of the stories Shakespeare tells are eternal, and tell about universal themes like love, death and fear," said junior Rory Eggleston, Romeo and Juliet's assistant director. "So it’s very easy to adapt a text into what the director wants it to be."

Although the play will be performed in a modern-day context, the script is not modern dialogue—it is a shortened version of Shakespeare’s original text, with only a few words changed to bring the story to the present. Condensed to an hour long, the production will not include many of the play's central storylines, such as the Capulet-Montague feud, and will mainly focus on the romance between Romeo and Juliet.

“We try to make something that somebody would want to watch," said Jaybird O’Berski, the show's director and an assistant professor of the practice of Theater Studies. "Most Shakespeare is archaeological and dusty and reverential, but that’s not the spirit of the way it was originally performed."

In this adaptation, Romeo and Juliet will be slightly older than in Shakespeare's tale, and their deaths will be the effects of a drug overdose rather than poison. Other details have been slightly altered, not changing the underlying plot but making Shakespeare seem more relevant to modern times. In doing so, Antic Shakespeare will open up the beloved text to new interpretations.

“We have so much trouble as a society breaking from Victorian ideals—of what it means to be feminine, what it means to be masculine and what it means to be in love,” sophomore Colleen Sharp, who is playing Juliet.

By placing the script in a new context, Antic Shakespeare aims to depart from the typical portrayal of Romeo and Juliet’s love to provide a more realistic and approachable view of Shakespeare’s themes. Further exemplifying this departure, five out of the six parts in the production are played by women, including Romeo.

Despite the predominantly female cast, O'Berski filled roles based off of acting skills, not gender. Although he said he did not originally intend to cast roles with LGBTQ commentary in mind, this production of Romeo and Juliet will challenge the gender roles of Shakespeare's original script, as well as provide a new perspective on the love between the play's title characters.

“I really like the Romeo and Mercutio scenes, because of the modern setting and the idea that most of the cast is women,” Eggleston said. “I feel like it helps with the dynamic of lots of the characters and makes it interesting with the idea of LGBTQ ideas being brought in and implicitly stating how other productions of Romeo and Juliet and other productions of Shakespeare can be somewhat misogynistic.”

Romeo and Juliet will be seen through a new lens when it is taken out of Verona and placed in the present day. Far from the traditional, Victorian conception of Romeo and Juliet, this production will go beyond the sword-fighting, corset-laced time period to which the play is often constrained.

“The more sophisticated I become as a learner, the more sophisticated my understanding of Shakespeare becomes,” Sharp said.

Shakespeare lovers and first timers alike will be sure to enjoy Antic Shakespeare’s rendition of this classic love story, which will draw connections to college life and romance in ways less unattainable with the Victorian interpretation.

“This is the perfect date play," O'Berski said. "It’s short and it’s hot and it’ll get you credit with your partner because you can say you’re taking them to Shakespeare, then you’ll get there and it’ll be sexy and fresh."

The play will be performed Friday and Saturday of Valentine’s Day weekend, at 8 PM at Brody Theater.


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