MU’s production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ unites tradition with originality

“The theater department has been around for almost a hundred years, and this is the first time ever that we’ve done a play in the Missouri Theatre,” Director Kevin Brown said.

You may think you know the story of “Romeo and Juliet,” but when Shakespeare's tragic love story comes to the Missouri Theatre stage, you may notice a few changes.

The MU theater department will bring a unique interpretation of the classic tale to Missouri Theatre at 7 p.m. on Oct. 1. The show will feature an original take on the production with changes to the setting, time period and design of the play, as well as a non-traditional cast.

“The actors and I have thought about this play as if we’ve never heard of it and are coming to it fresh,” Director Kevin Brown said. “We’re really trying to bring our own interpretation to it.”

Senior Alex Givens, who plays Romeo with freshman Leah Huskey as Juliet, said his biggest challenge is keeping the show fresh, since it has been performed for centuries.

“Everybody thinks that they know how the show should go,” Givens said. “My job is to make sure that all of these moments happen as real and as honestly as I can possibly make them. I don’t want to retrace other actors’ steps, and if I do, I want to make sure they make sense for what we’re doing.”

Brown and his assistant director, third-year doctoral student Jennie Pardoe, agree that despite the show’s popularity, MU’s production is unique while staying true to the story.

“We’ve set it in the Italian Renaissance, so we’re taking it back to the Shakespearean setting of the place,” Pardoe said. “A lot of times today we see Shakespeare in new, postmodern settings, and this is looking back at some of the older themes.”

Brown went into more detail about the production’s uniqueness.

“The design approach that we’ve taken is very visual,” he said.

He explained that “The Kiss,” a painting by Gustav Klimt, inspired the gold and floral colors in the set and costumes. He also said Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting includes a dream sequence, something that does not happen in other versions of the play.

Another distinct element of the show, specifically for MU, is the location of the performance.

“The theater department has been around for almost a hundred years, and this is the first time ever that we’ve done a play in the Missouri Theatre,” Brown said.

Another divergent aspect of the show is the casting of a woman, senior Alison Kertz, as Mercutio, typically a role for males.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Kertz said about her experience playing the part. “I’ve found a surprising amount of common ground between the way Mercutio interacts with others and the way I interact with others in my personal life.”

She explained that the similarities include Mercutio’s fondness for embarrassing her friends in front of people and being the bawdiest one in the conversation.

“Mercutio in the text doesn’t really fit into the rest of the society,” Pardoe said. “With a woman playing the part, she obviously doesn’t fit in, and it just kind of continues to speak to that.”

The four brawlers in the play’s opening scene are also played by women rather than men in this production. Brown said that these four women later transform into dancers in the ball scene.

“I feel very strongly about non-traditional casting, so when I put out the call for actors, we specified that we were especially interested in making sure that people knew that there were roles available regardless of gender, ethnicity, age and that sort of thing,” he said. “So we’ve got a really good cross-section of people.”

The cast and directors have spent the past five weeks preparing for the show. Auditions were held Aug. 26. Brown said assigning roles was difficult because of both the quantity and quality of the actors who auditioned.

“It kind of becomes like a puzzle because you have all these good actors, but some might be right for certain roles and some for other roles,” Brown said. “Ultimately, it ended up great. The actors that we have are really working out well.”

This is the ninth show at MU for Givens, a theatre performance major. Huskey is participating in MU theatre for the first time.

Their favorite aspects of their characters are strikingly similar. Both actors cite their characters’ intense devotion as what drives the plot.

“(Juliet) basically goes on an emotional rollercoaster the whole show,” Huskey said. “It’s really fun to play all those different emotions in the span of this one show. She goes from being really, really happy to everything going downhill.”

Givens also cited emotions as Romeo’s most interesting quality.

“His greatest flaw and his greatest asset is his passion,” Givens said. “Sometimes he’s doing things in a passionate way for good, sometimes it turns out bad, but no matter what it is, he stays true to what he feels. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about us as people, that we can only be ourselves, for better or worse.”

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