‘Romeo & Juliet’ set for today through Sunday

A young person in love is like a reckless drunk. No amount of convincing will stop them from thinking they’re the best driver in the world or that starting a barroom brawl because someone spilled their beer is a great idea.

Millions of plays, sonnets, operas, songs, films and novels have been written attempting to capture the subtleties of young love, but no work of fiction that does this has held more acclaim than William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

It has been 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, and the Lamar University Department of Theatre and Dance is celebrating the Bard’s work with a production of “Romeo and Juliet” today to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Studio Theatre. Tickets will be $7 for LU students, $10 for senior citizens, students and LU faculty and staff, and $15 general admission.

“Romeo and Juliet” is a love story set against the backdrop of two warring families, the Montagues and the Capulets, and tells of the love affair between Romeo and Juliet, two star-crossed lovers in “fair Verona,” now replaced by 1920s New Orleans. It’s a story of love, death, passion and comedy, and has been one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays since his death in 1616.

Austin Jones, Pearland freshman, who plays Romeo, said that although Romeo begins the play convinced he’s in love with a girl named Rosaline, the moment he lays eyes on Juliet, everything changes.

Austin Jones and Shelby Dryden play the titular characters in Lamar University's production of 'Romeo and Juliet,' which opens today.

Austin Jones and Shelby Dryden play the titular characters in Lamar University’s production of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ which opens today.

“He’s a love-struck puppy,” Jones said. “He’s trying so hard to find this girl he can fall in love with. At the beginning of the play, he’s still complaining and whining about this other girl, but literally as soon as he sees Juliet, he forgets who she is. What makes his love for Juliet stronger is that their households have had this feud for generations, and she just starts to become this forbidden fruit that he desperately wants.”

Guest director Rutherford Cravens said that one of the reasons the play is so popular is because it truthfully depicts the passion and mania that derives from young love.

“I just think it’s the most accurate play I know about what it feels like to be a teenager really in love for the first time — that weird hormonal storm going on all the time,” he said. “I think, especially for a college audience, it’s one of the Shakespeare plays most where students can see themselves.”

This kind of love can be fleeting, Cravens said, but because the love between Romeo and Juliet is forbidden and their families are locked in a blood feud, it takes on a new importance in their lives.

“You have this sense that if all the adults in the world hadn’t failed them, if they hadn’t been in this situation where what they were doing hadn’t been forbidden, in a couple months, Romeo and Juliet would have broken up,” he said. “It’s that thing that you feel, that everything is so important, everything is now, everything is this, and this is your one chance.”

Romeo’s love for Juliet has become short-hand in our culture for a poetic love and devotion that few experience. The fact that Romeo begins the play convinced he’s in love with Rosaline shows that Romeo doesn’t really know what love is, Cravens said.

“He’s basically a ‘player’ at the beginning,” he said. “He’s wanted a lot of women, but I don’t think he’s ever been in love.”

Shakespeare is known for his poetic and metaphoric use of language, but Cravens said Shakespeare uses language in “Romeo and Juliet” to show just how much Juliet’s love changes Romeo, and vice versa.

“His language at the beginning of the play is really overwrought,” he said. “A lot of it is really crap poetry, but it’s what (Romeo) thinks is poetic. Juliet’s language is so straightforward, just honest and direct and so stripped of metaphor. Then, as the play progresses, they meet in the middle — his language becomes stripped down, and her language becomes much richer and filled with images.

“In the balcony scene, for instance, he’s the one who says, ‘Let me stay the night,’ and she’s like, ‘No, no, you’ll get killed.’ By the time you get to the morning after their wedding night, when he has to leave, their positions have been totally reversed from where they were on the balcony scene. He’s saying, ‘I’ve really got to go or they’ll kill me,’ and she’s saying, ‘No, no, you can stay. They’re not going to come in.’ Finally, with Juliet, he reaches that straightforward, honest place.”

Romeo’s best friend and fierce protector is Mercutio. Many adaptions of “Romeo and Juliet” have played with Mercutio’s apparent love for Romeo, including Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 adaption with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. In this adaption, Mercutio is played by a woman, and Sydney Haygood, Friendswood sophomore, said this time the subtext is text.

“Rutherford’s always said, either way, if I were a man or a woman, he would make Mercutio be in love with Romeo,” she said. “In this one, it’s mostly her and Romeo against the world. She knows him like the back of her hand. She just wants him to be happy, but then there are moments where she’s upset because he doesn’t see her like that. So, yes, this play deals with not one love, but multiple, different kinds of love.”

Romeo and Mercutio’s enemy in the play is Tybalt, the “Prince of Cats” and cousin to Juliet. Thomas Gentry, Beaumont senior, who plays Tybalt, said he feels it’s Romeo’s womanizing past which causes Tybalt’s animosity.

“Basically, when they were growing up, Romeo was the one who got all the girls and Tybalt was the one who didn’t,” he said. “Tybalt went to school and learned how to master a sword and different areas of combat, and Romeo was the one talking to girls and taking names. When Tybalt sees Romeo with Juliet, his cousin, then he’s like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold up. No. It’s one thing (that) I don’t like you because I don’t like you, but now you’re trying to get with my cousin. We can’t be having that.’”

There’s a reason theaters across the globe still perform Shakespeare, Cravens said, and it’s not necessarily the dialogue, but Shakespeare’s understanding of human nature which has led to his work being translated and cherished across the world.

“The language is exquisite, but I don’t think that’s why we’re still doing it 400 years later,” he said. “I think it’s because the characters are so rich and beautifully drawn and recognizable, and I think that’s what draws people back to the play. I mean, all over the world, Shakespeare is the most produced playwright, and he’s produced in translation, so it’s not the language. It’s the characters and how true they are, I think.”

Haygood said that she hopes the play lives up to these expectations, and that this performance is an opportunity to show that Shakespeare can be fun.

“I’m nervous because it’s my first big role in a Shakespeare play, and I have a huge monologue,” she said. “I’m prepared, but still, I want to do my best, and I want the audience to have fun and enjoy Shakespeare, because I know there are some people that dreaded learning it in school. I really want them to come in and see a different side to it and realize it can be a fun play.”

For more information, call the box office at 880-2250 or follow the LU Department of Theatre and Dance on Facebook.

Tim Collins

UP staff writer

Learn more about Lamar University at lamar.edu

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