Theater aglow with Juliet and her Romeo

“For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo,” wrote Shakespeare. Colton Ruscheinsky and Sarah Wilson as Romeo and Juliet in this fall’s production of the Bard’s classic play.
Photo by Jeff Sorensen.

Vulgarity, sword fighting, swing dancing and nudity: not the first things most people think of when picturing “Romeo and Juliet” – yet all of those things can be found in the Osterman Theatre as the two star-cross’d lovers meet on stage tomorrow night.

“I’ve seen this play a number of times and always been a little disappointed in the outcome of it, and I wondered why,” said director David Smith-English. “I didn’t [direct] it because I thought I could. I did it knowing that there must be difficulties someplace because so many times it doesn’t quite work.”

And indeed there have been difficulties. From trying to fill the many roles (Lord Montague was only just cast last Thursday), choreographing a cast that is inexperienced in the ways of swordplay or simply trying to grasp Shakespeare’s writing, Smith-English says the theater department has been scrambling.

“I was really scared,” said student Mark Polendey, who is attempting a Shakespearian role for the first time as Mercutio. “Memorizing lines has always been difficult for me, and I could not even fathom memorizing Shakespeare.”

After rehearsals started, though, Polendey said it became second nature, especially when the cast had the opportunity to play with the numerous dirty jokes Shakespeare is notorious for.

“[Mercutio] is a dirty bastard,” said Polendey. “There’s one scene with the nurse … we portray it as almost a rape scene.”

“A lot of places want to tone down ‘Romeo and Juliet’ because there is a lot of graphic sexual content,” said Travis Ferguson, who plays Gregory. “We’re totally playing it up, making it more interesting for younger audiences.”

Adding to the appeal for younger audiences are choreographed swordfights, swing dancing and even – however briefly – Romeo in the buff.

“This is a real love story, but it’s also a physical love story,” Ferguson explained, noting that Romeo appears naked to show that he and Juliet did, in fact, have sex. “If you see a high school do it, or if you see another group do it, they might just do the romantic, beautiful side of it. But, you know there’s just a real human element that [Smith-English] is trying to bring through here.”

Smith-English’s interpretation of the play takes a different course than the common Romeo-centric versions American culture is used to.

“It’s about Juliet,” said Smith-English, citing Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. “If you’re going to be successful in doing Romeo and Juliet, you’ve got to remember it’s about Juliet.”

“It’s really more emotional that way because you’re following this character who found her love and then lost her love. You see all those ranges of emotions where she’s happy, sad, confused,” said Jake Dannen, assistant stage manager for the play. “It’s just wonderful to watch, and Sarah Wilson, who plays Juliet, does a fantastic job. It’s just wonderful to watch her.”

“I don’t think people realize just how young Juliet and her mother are,” Polendey remarked. “Juliet’s mother had her when she was about 15, and Juliet herself is not quite 14 … Juliet is where [her mother] was when she had her, and so it’s kind of a weird situation for them. They’re all kind of like children in a sense.”

  • Where: Osterman Theatre, Niemeyer Center
  • When: 7 p.m. Thurs. through Sat., 2:30 p.m. Sun. Performances follow the same schedule for next week as well.
  • Admission prices:
    Students & seniors — $8
    Adults — $10

This article was originally published in The Clackamas Print volume 40, issue 5. It can be viewed as it was printed below.

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