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Powerful Performance of “Romeo and Juliet” at Santa Clara University

“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” says Juliet in the poetic and famous balcony scene of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, written between 1591 and 1595.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

For many, Shakespeare’s tragic tale of forbidden teenage love is a faint memory of famous lines from high school required reading — or from one of its movie adaptations.


If it has been a while — or never — since you’ve seen Romeo and Juliet performed live, now is your golden opportunity to enter the Renaissance Age and witness the family feud between the Montagues and the Capulets come to life — and death — on stage.

Romeo and Juliet, directed by Professor of Theatre Aldo Billingslea, opened at Santa Clara University (SCU) May 31 and has remaining performances June 5, 6, 7 and 8 at the Louis B. Mayer Theatre.


Elegant Production

Nothing is spared in the two-hour SCU production, although slimmed down from the original. It opens in Verona, Italy, in the early Renaissance period. A classic sword fight is soon followed by a masked ball with elegantly-robed guests.

Barbara Murray, SCU professor and resident costume designer, said that the Italian Renaissance costumes were either custom made or pulled from stock and adjusted. Some items were borrowed or purchased.

“It was the most costly show this year for costumes — about $7,000,” said Murray.

It is at the masked ball that Romeo, a party-crashing Montague, falls in love at first sight with Juliet, a Capulet. It is a forbidden love since their families are enemies.

The audience can distinguish the families in the sword fights and dances by the color of their costumes. The Montagues are dressed in aquas and blues. The Capulets wear fiery oranges and reds.

Young love cannot overcome the feud between the two families, a feud leading to five deaths. The last two are the suicides of Romeo and 13-year-old Juliet, who had wed secretly. Neither could bear to live without the other. It takes these deaths for the families to reconcile.

Before the play begins, the audience is cautioned that as it is a story of teenage suicide, thoughts of self harm may be triggered. A crisis hotline (1-800-273-TALK) and text line (Text HOME to 741741) are announced.

A pleasing addition to the SCU interpretation is music from Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet suit. An original song with guitar and chorus, written by professional actor and musician Liz Filios, springs from Romeo’s line in Act 2, scene 6: “…But come what sorrow can….”

Exceptional SCU Cast
“If you’re interested in connecting to the poetry and power of Shakespeare and want to feel good about the talent and progress of young people, you should see this production,” said Billingslea. “You can see what they do that’s good and noble, how talented, committed and hardworking they are.”

The cast of 20 SCU students, plus one senior from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, deliver powerful performances that would bring Shakespeare to his feet.

Gabriela and Ed Sullivan, whose daughter, Katie, plays Lady Capulet, attended the opening night performance. It was their first time to see Romeo and Juliet live.

“It’s excellent. They’ve made it interesting — and funny in parts,” said Gabriela Sullivan. “All the cast is amazing. You can tell they worked so hard.”

After the performance, the cast shared challenges in performing the show. In Shakespeare’s day, female parts were played by men. At SCU, some male parts were played by women.

“It was difficult because my character likes to sexually assault women,” said one female actor playing a male role.

For Sara Session (Juliet), playing dead was a challenge.

“I had to learn to disrespect people more,” said Tony Pierce (Lord Capulet).

Senior Derek Sikkema, an English and Theatre double major from Washington State, said that the biggest creative challenge of his life was playing the emotionally vulnerable Romeo.

“It’s important to remember that Romeo is just a child. He’s a kid who has no idea what he’s doing and is in way over his head,” said Sikkema.

A tragedy then — and today.


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