“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name, or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”
These immortal words, spoken by one of the two classic characters who epitomize the concept of tragic love in everyone’s minds, ring through the auditorium. Standing at the balcony on the left side of the stage is Juliet, her face bathed in a soft spotlight. On the right side of the stage, in front of the blue house of Montague set, stands Romeo, gazing sweetly at his beloved.
This is one of the more popular scenes in the theatre play “Romeo and Juliet,” which opened at the GCC Mainstage Theatre on Oct. 27. This version of the Shakespearean tragedy, presented by the Theatre Arts department, is directed by Melissa Randel, a Dance and Theatre Arts instructor, and features a cast of 32 students.
The familiar love story, set in the city of Verona, revolves around two star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, whose families are caught in a feud. The two meet, fall in love, get married in secret, and die all in a matter of days. Powerful swordfights, lively characters, romantic rendezvous and moving dance choreography enhance the dramatic chain of events.
Nick Campbell, who portrays the Prince of Verona in the play, says that the cast has been “rehearsing since the beginning of the semester.”
“We practice Monday to Friday, every night,” Campbell says.
When asked why the department decided to produce a version of the classic play, Randel said she wanted to do a play that was “age appropriate.”
“The characters are all really young. Even the adult [roles] are young,” Randel says. “There are a lot of good roles for young people.”
The universal themes of love and rivalry were also good reasons for staging the play. According to Randel, the play appeals to the public because most people can relate to these themes.
Members of the cast agree. They say that the audience can look forward to “killer sword fights, tender love scenes, a little bit of domestic violence, and suicide” from this version of Romeo and Juliet.
The play was given a different twist in two unique ways. First of all, the narration is done by a minor character in the story: Peter, a servant in the house of Capulet, who appears in many scenes, often as a silent observer. Played by Travis Reiner, the role of Peter is given a touch of goofiness and adds comic flavor to the story.
Randel believes that doing this allows the audience to view “Romeo and Juliet” though a different perspective while still following the traditional version of the play. “Servants are allowed to be in the [master’s] rooms,” she says. “They listen in on conversations, so they often know what’s going on.” Randel compares this version of Romeo and Juliet to the movie “Gosford Park,” which is also told through the servants’ eyes.
Secondly, the story is framed by the “ghosts” of the two lovers, embodied by the gold statues which Lord Capulet and Lord Montague promise to erect in honor of the couple at the end of the play. One or both of these statues appear silently in the sidelines in all of Romeo and Juliet’s scenes, observing the chain of events as it unfolds.
The play opens with the two statues frozen in an embrace on a pedestal. They suddenly come to life and perform a passionate “pas de deux” (duet dance) choreographed by Randel herself.
Another significant dance number in the story takes place at a masque ball at the Capulet residence. The choreography for this colorful piece, which involves around a dozen partygoers in full ball attire twirling skirts and changing partners, was done by Kelsi Snoke.
Aside from the dance numbers, the play is notable for its swordfights. “The sword-fighting is very dynamic,” says Randel. “There’s fighting throughout the show.”
According to Randel, the actors enjoy the fight scenes tremendously. Choreographed by Ed Douglas and Nicholas Bonora, both professional
fight choreographers, there are three fight scenes in the play.
The actors use authentic swords
and daggers designed and
donated by Dave Baker.
The costumes were designed by Royce Herron, and the stage set was designed by Guido Girardi. Many of the cast members assisted in the construction of the set. A high marble balcony where the famous dialogue between the lovers takes place dominates the left side of the stage, and archways and pillars capture the rustic romance of Verona. Two entire rows of seats were taken out from the front to make room for the huge set. The actors also make use of the entire auditorium, entering from the auditorium doors and walking down the aisles in some parts of the play.
Randel says that the experience of working on the play was “very enriching.”
“I completely enjoy collaborating with my colleagues,” she says. “I really enjoyed watching students find things in the text and make it their own. That makes the play more interesting.”
But the beauty of Romeo and Juliet, Randel says, lies in the thrilling but tragic romance.
“When you’re young, it’s easier to love like that,” says Randel. “Romeo and Juliet are immortalized as the quintessential lovers-theirs is a very pure, selfless love.”
Romeo and Juliet is showing at the GCC Mainstage Theater through Nov. 13. For showtimes and tickets, call the theater arts department at 818- 240-1000, ext. 5618.