Lamb Arts Regional Theatre:
Romeo and Juliet
Lamb Arts Regional Theatre
Sioux City, Iowa
October 13, 2019
October 17-19 (7:00) and October 20 (2:00)
Four hundred years after the original Romeo and Juliet appeared onstage, six dedicated young actresses are performing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy in Lamb’s black box theatre. Director Diana Guhin Wooley’s casting flips the script on the first all-male performances, but Toby Hulse’s adapted and streamlined text retains a great deal of the original language. This isn’t quite Shakespeare as you encountered him in your ninth grade English class, but maybe you’d be better off if it had been.
This new adaptation eliminates some characters and adds a contemporary young girl, Emily, who in the comfort of her bedroom flips through the standard repertoire of Disney fairy tales. When she gets to Romeo and Juliet, she expects it to end happily ever after just like all the others.
This is Shakespeare made smaller, but not Shakespeare watered down. The addition of Emily adds context and an entry point to younger viewers without losing much in the process.
If you watch the play, which runs a little less than an hour, you see that the story of Romeo and Juliet still holds up. And so do the performances of the actresses portraying them. Lilly Friis delivers a strong but elegant Juliet, and Peyton Stahle’s Romeo appears equally love-struck and love-sick and as conflicted as any lover would be in that situation. The three actresses splitting the other five roles keep the play moving but also help remind the audience that this isn’t just a story about Romeo and Juliet; their families and their city are tied up in and torn apart by it, too.
In the first few minutes, before any of the Shakespearean characters show up, I was struck by the buoyant character of Emily and the actress, Grace Powell, who played her. I was tempted to dismiss both the character and the actress because I expected Emily, the “All-American 21st century romantic idealist,” would be exempt from any of the difficult language of the original. But that’s not the case at all. In fact, the characters in the play only interact with Emily if she “says it in Shakespeare.” So Emily turns out to be more than a Disney-indoctrinated dreamer and Ms. Powell more than pulls her weight by keeping a foot both in our world and in Shakespeare’s.
But that distinction between “our world” and Shakespeare’s misses the point and shorts this play its main insight. Because Shakespeare’s world is our world. It’s easy to see Emily as the one who enters into the star-cross’d lovers’ drama. And she does. But when the play ends, it’s clear that the characters have entered her world, her life, too. Let’s hope that whatever happens to its characters, this play has given these fine young actresses—and some of the young audience members—an opportunity to let Shakespeare into their own lives as well.
Brendan Todt is a stay-at-home father who mows his neighbor’s lawn in exchange for piano lessons. Between April and July he saw two live performances of Hamlet (one with a female lead) and several film versions. He is now Hamlet-ed but not Shakespeare-d out.