Step into the world of William Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo and Juliet” as envisioned by director and Chair of the UVU Department of Theatrical Arts for Stage and Screen, Dr. John Newman. For those few unfamiliar, or who simply need a reminder, “Romeo and Juliet” is the story of two young lovers whose passion for each other is brought to a bitter end because of a rivalry dividing their families.
The set pieces and costume design were on point for portraying the renaissance era in which the story takes place. Furthermore, the choreography was a standout aspect of the play as there were several intense fight scenes and one fun dance scene. There were some stumbles, especially during the fights, but the actors pulled it off admirably. For such a small production, it was immediately apparent how much dedication and hard work went into making it completely immersive.
For those in attendance, they may have noticed some differences to the original. The first and most obvious was the presence of women in roles traditionally reserved for men, such as Kat Balanzategui dawning the costume of Romeo’s comedic friend, Mercutio, whose antics are the catalyst to the series of spiraling events which follow. Balanzategui shined in the role.
Another change came in the form of sign language taking the place of Latin and French as the secondary language of the educated class. This allowed for the inclusion of the talented Anne Post Fife, a deaf actress, in the role of Juliet’s nurse.
The last and perhaps most noteworthy was the addition of the role of Rosaline being brought to the stage. Rosaline is Romeo’s first infatuation, whose rejection of Romeo some critics believe leads to Romeo having such intense feelings for Juliet. Traditionally the play begins after Romeo has already been rejected by Rosaline and thus Rosaline never makes an appearance. But, using rarely used passages and other pieces of Shakespeare’s plays, they were able to include her role in the story to highlight its importance in leading Romeo down his path to Juliet.
Dr. Newman noted that they didn’t want to fall into the trap of “romanticizing the suicides of the lovers or showing them as inevitable” as can sometimes be done when handling such sensitive material. In an effort to accomplish this objective, Dr. Newman highlighted instances in the play in which alternative solutions could have been achieved to the problems the two lovers faced. It brought out the foolishness of everyone involved, which is the true culprit behind the tragic ending.
The actors handled portraying these elements of the play expertly. From Ramses Contreras, bringing out Romeo’s over-the-top romanticism and how that leads to him running headlong into trouble; to Grace Bowman, showing Juliet struggling to escape an arranged marriage which pushes her over the edge to despair of which Romeo represents an escape.
Even for those well versed in the long-told story, this rendition of “Romeo and Juliet” was a worthwhile event that brought new talents and insights to the stage.