Romeo and Juliet get a “happy ending” on the American scene • St Pete Catalyst
The subtitle of American Stage’s new production Romeo and Juliet is the first clue that something here isn’t quite traditional.
Opening Thursday at Williams Park, the full title of the play is Romeo and Juliet in America (The One with the Happy Ending).
R and J, of course, is perhaps Shakespeare’s best-known tragedy. As anyone with his Capulets in a straight line knows, there is no happy ending in sight.
Director L. Peter Callender, who adapted the classic work with American Stage associate art director Kristin Clippard, says that after 470 years the story has been tweaked, adapted and changed so many times in the crop. popular, that one more is surely OK.
“After we’ve all been sent to our rooms for what, 17 months now, we all need a happy ending,” says Callender. “We all need a helping hand, a helping hand. I think no one wants to see another tragedy right now.
“Yes, we would like some tears, because the production has these elements. But we wanted to cheer up, so we adapted Romeo and Juliet For this reason.”
More importantly, he said, “the language is the same: two homes, both worthy of beautiful Verona, where we set our stage… I didn’t say ‘at the Corona Fair’ and I didn’t said “at the St. Petersburg fair… ‘I wanted this language to stay.
“But sweet, what light is breaking through the widow over there?” This is the east, and Juliet is the sun… However, we cropped a lot of the language to keep it within two hours, sure, but a few of those lines were placed in other parts of the show.
The key word here is not “contemporary” – there are no musical duels between Sharks and Jets – but “adapted”.
“I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say the word ‘dream’ appears 15 times in this piece. I wanted to play with that word a bit. So the play has a lot to do with dreams.
Callender, who is in his sixth year as a resident director with American Stage, is the artistic director of the African American Shakespeare Company of San Francisco. So he knows what he’s doing.
“Look, I’m a purist,” he explains, “I grew up with ‘Every word has to be spoken; we have to understand everything we say. If we understand it, the public will understand it. But I have transformed over the years.
“As actors and directors and playwrights we have all these books on our desks: The Complete Works, The Lexicons, the Oxford Dictionary, we have this, we have that… all kinds of books everywhere to help us.
“The audience comes with their programs, they sit down and listen. And they have to understand all the things that we didn’t understand, but we had all these books to help us understand. But they don’t. So there has to be a balance there, so our audience will sit down and say, “Oh, I get it”.
“But the story is still there. The language is still there. The rhythm is still there. The cadence is still there. Poetry.”
He directs the cast of six members with contemporary costumes, on a “skeletal” setting with levels of scaffolding.
As for shaking things up on the Williams Park stage: “This is my first outdoor show here. I take care of the sirens, the buses and the people in the park. You can’t tell people that they can’t make noise in the park while we are playing. The actors are microphones, the sound is beautiful, the lighting is magnificent. We have an incredible cast.
“So I think when you see it you’ll feel like it’s something you’ve never experienced at Williams Park before. “
Romeo and Juliet in America (The one with the happy ending) premieres on Wednesday; the show opens Thursday and runs until August 1. Tickets and details are here.