Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” a timeless tale of star-crossed lovers, was beautifully re-produced in the musical “Romeo and Juliet: Hard Way Home” at Long Beach State.
“[Lopes’ production] captures that sweet fleeting moment of freedom and independence between these two tragic lovers,” Jeff Janisheski, California Repertory artistic director and chair of CSULB’s theatre department, said in a press release.
Beth Lopes directed the production to follow the plot and outdated vernacular of Shakespeare’s original work. But instead of capturing the same 16th-century European atmosphere, she modernized it by giving the backdrops and costuming a countryside vibe.
“I strive to show a world onstage that is as beautifully diverse as the world we know offstage,” Lopes said. “The country vibe definitely came from the music and spread outward. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to use Brandi Carlile’s album Bear Creek and that album has a very particular sound. The world of our Verona needed to mirror that sound.”
The Montagues and the Capulets wore jeans and flowy summer dresses and skirts like modern southern belles and hillbillies.
The musical used songs by Grammy Award-winner Brandi Carlile off her album, “Bear Creek.” Characters sang and danced along to “Hard Way Home,” “Raise Hell,” “That Wasn’t Me,” “Just Kids,” and “Rise Again.”
“What stood out most to me was how modern [the play] was,” said Angela Poblano, a second-year psychology major. “Despite the language, [Cal Rep] was able to make it more modern and inclusive with the incorporation of interracial relationships.”
The play ran two hours, though it felt like 30 minutes because of its quick transitions from scene-to-scene. In the blink of an eye, Romeo (Matt Avery) and Juliet (Mikayla Conley) went from falling in love at first sight to getting married to meeting their tragic fate.
At times, it became difficult to follow the storyline because the characters were not only speaking the Shakespearean language, but they were screaming it loud. If you are not familiar with Shakespeare or the story of Romeo and Juliet, you might need a playbook to read along.
The musical made it possible for the audience to feel as if they were in the rural outdoors. Chirping cricket sounds, pink sunsets, dark blue night skies and a windmill gave off feelings of a genuine southern atmosphere. You could almost feel the hot humid country air as the moonlight illuminated your body.
The whole cast spoke their Shakesperian lines eloquently, but some characters, like Juliet, did not maintain an accent throughout the whole play, which was a bit distracting. Romeo would even break the fourth wall at times by talking to himself and asking rhetorical questions while looking straight at the audience.
The chemistry between Romeo and Juliet was undeniably sensual, yet modest and restrained. They shared passionate kisses as if there was no tomorrow, which was the case.
Juliet’s nurse (Cecilia Rodriguez) made the audience laugh with her over-the-top mannerisms and when she walked in on the unclothed Romeo and Juliet.
Since the Capulet and Montague families despise each other, Tybalt (Joe Laurente) and Mercutio (Rachel “Ray” Post) ended up in a bloody duel that resulted in their death, which exasperated the feud between the two families.
Lord Capulet (Brenden Mukanos) forced his daughter Juliet to marry Paris (Jason Rivera), but she did not want to because of her love for Romeo. She worked up a plan with the Friar (Emily Coleman), to make herself temporary unconsciousness on the day of the wedding.
Romeo was not properly notified about Juliet’s plan, so he poisoned himself when he saw Juliet’s presumably dead body because he could not handle the thought of his lover being gone forever. Juliet woke up to find a dead Romeo by her side, prompting her to kill herself with a dagger.
“‘Romeo & Juliet: Hard Way Home’ is a perfect example of what I want Cal Rep to be,” Janiski said. “An incubator for new work, new ways of adapting classic plays and a home for visionary directors like Beth.”
Cal Rep’s “Rome and Juliet: The Hard Way Home” will be playing at the University Theater until Nov. 16.