- Romeo and Julietdir. by Mike Peebler and John Walcutt, and: Four Clowns presents Hamletdir. by Turner Munch
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Romeo and Juliethas always seemed both an obvious and an odd choice to introduce American high school freshmen to Shakespeare. Yes, it revolves around teenagers, but teenagers heroicized for defying authority, making bad choices, and finally killing themselves. And their parents are even worse. Similarly, the play seemed both to suit and to subvert Shakespeare Orange County’s declared mission “to use theatre to build bridges between generations and the 76 languages spoken in our community” (“Shakespeare Orange County,” Shakespeare Theatre Home, STAHome.org). As a community event, the production nicely incorporated local diversity, both on the stage and in the audience. As an interpretation of Shakespeare’s play, the multicultural project did discover some insightful and inventive moments, but the intended message of community uplift often stumbled over the play’s tragic view of the forces that tear at communities and families.
The tag line on the poster for the show—“Your Friends. Your Kids. Your Town”—neatly suggested how easily Verona (as Leonard Bernstein and Baz Luhrmann have shown) might be translated into an ethnically and culturally diverse contemporary urban setting. The casting suggested these complexities without crudely representing the Capulets and Montagues as rival gangs. Romeo’s parents, Juliet’s mother, and Juliet herself were played by Asian American actors, while Romeo and Capulet were played by actors with Hispanic surnames; the customs and costumes of both families suggested a mixing but not a blurring of cultures.
Another way to involve the community in a production is to include large numbers of the community in the cast; the program listed fifty-six cast members, not including the twenty-four folkloric dancers who performed at intervals throughout, helping to stretch the performance to nearly three and a half hours. Many of the ensemble performers were talented high school students from the Orange County School for the Performing Arts; doubtless this had something to do with the production’s success in bringing a larger, younger, and more diverse audience to the theater than in past seasons.
The show began with a kind of community talent show: singers and dancers representing distinctive cultural traditions performed as the audience was seated, while the cast cheered them on from the sides of the stage. Well after the announced curtain time, the emcee finally welcomed the audience and was just pointing out the exits when he was interrupted by Gregory and Sampson entering loudly down the aisles, dispersing the communal good feelings. Unfortunately, as is too often the case at this outdoor venue with no amplification, the actors felt the need to shout their lines so loudly that it was difficult to understand what they were saying, and the rest of the first scene played out as a bit of a muddle. [End Page 147]
Several scenes that are dialogues in Shakespeare...