The Department of Theater and Dance’s latest project was a new take on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Union’s rendition of the famous Shakespeare play was available for viewing from Nov. 2 through Nov. 5, with a matinee on Nov. 6. Tickets were available for purchase at the box office in the Yulman Theatre lobby for $10 general admission and only $7 with a Union ID.
This production is certainly different from your usual Shakespeare. While it is set in a “Mad-Max”-like post-apocalyptic world, there are many familiar elements that undoubtedly distinguish the play as “Romeo and Juliet.” The feud between the Capulets and Montagues along with the tragic relationship between Romeo and Juliet are just two examples.
The immense amount of effort and time that went into making the production such a hit did not go unnoticed by the audience. Among the individuals who worked so hard behind the scenes to make the on stage performances go off without a hitch are Professor of Theater and Department Chair William Finlay, who directed the production alongside Professor Charles Steckler, the scenic designer, Artist in Residence Brittney Belz, the costume designer, Artist in Residence Robert Bovard, the technical director and lighting design and Union’s humanities postdoctoral fellow, Yasmine Van Wilt as composer.
Their dedication and hard work paid off alongside the cast and crew of about 50 to 60 students of varying years. One member of the cast, Zachary Baum ’18 made his Union College acting debut playing Juliet’s father, Lord Capulet in this production. He claims that, “my favorite part of this whole production had to be meeting and working with all the people in the department. I had seen a lot of them on stage previously so I really thought I was lucky to be able act along side everyone. The level of professionalism and ability across the board was really fantastic.”
Although the decision to start acting at Union during his junior year is definitely a bold move, it was an easy decision for Baum. After seeing previous productions, Baum was always really impressed with the level of acting ability, direction and set design at Union. He felt that he wanted to get involved and develop his acting with such a capable program.
In this post-apocalyptic world, which combines “Mad Max” with Shakespeare, Verona is no longer traditionally beautiful with its castles and ornate architecture. Instead, the backdrop of the play was rough and dark. The buildings were made of tarnished metals and steel. Disagreements that were once settled with swords were resolved with the use of chains and brutal, barbaric weapons like axes and knives. Costumes were clearly grunge inspired, with clothes being torn, old looking and dirty instead of the usual elaborate dresses and suits embellished with details of gold, lace and embroidery.
What really made this execution of the famous play was the modern take on the love story while keeping the narration in Early Modern English. This was an interesting and thoughtful choice by the department, and one that really paid off. By keeping the Early Modern English, the original meaning of Shakespeare’s play could be kept in tact.
When Baum was asked about his opinion on the choice to keep Early Modern English, he shared that, “I’m really happy with the old English. There is a certain art in the way Shakespeare wrote, and saying the lines as they were originally written is the only way to hear that. We did, however, try to contemporize the language a bit and make it more conversational.”
For a play that is normally so heavy in its overwhelming amounts of tragedy stemming from betrayal, death and forbidden love, Union’s rendition maintained its seriousness but was interspersed with humor. When talking about women Benvolio, Mercutio and Romeo, played by Matt Mintz ’18, James Basuk ’17 and Etienne-Marcel Giannelli ’20 respectively, often made comments reminiscent of modern day relationships. There were definite suggestive lines that paralleled today’s hookup culture.
These scenes sparked laughs from the audience, most likely driven by their relevance to student experiences. In relation to this Baum comments, “I’ve always been a bit mixed about Romeo. He either seems a bit naive about love and relationships or is a bit of a jerk for forgetting about his love for Roseline immediately after seeing Juliet.
“Regardless, for good or for bad, I do think there is a certain similarity between the way the three guys talk prior to the masquerade and the way some might talk about hooking up prior to a party today.” In addition, this brings up a fascinating question: if there are any general commonalities in the thinking young men in all time periods have.
Overall, the department presented a successful and unique post apocalyptic production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Despite being set in a “Mad Max” inspired landscape, the star-crossed lovers remain true to Shakespeare’s vision of love and fate.
The new take on the well-known play was certainly a rewarding endeavor. Taking something so traditional and familiar to the general public makes it risky for any production to tackle it.
As Baum put it, “I think that Shakespeare is often pretty inaccessible, so putting a new and exciting spin on it is a great way to keep it fresh.”
Union’s Department of Theater and Dance didn’t cease to amaze, and instead left the audience applauding and admiring, but most importantly wondering why a post apocalyptic “Romeo and Juliet” was never in the works before.