Remember what a stir Franco Zeffirelli caused with his 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet by casting two inexperienced teenaged actors in the title roles? Before then, Shakespeare’s tragedy of impulsive young lovers had oft beggared credibility by routinely starring big-name actors in their 30s or 40s. Having a 15-year-old girl play a 13-year-old girl: What a concept!
Since then, younger casts have become more commonplace, often in more modern settings such as Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film adaptation Romeo + Juliet. Now Lou Trapani, artistic director of the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, has come up with another contemporary version to kick off the Center’s tenth annual Sam Scripps Shakespeare Festival, swapping the “and” for an ampersand instead of a plus sign. The CenterStage Production opens this Friday and runs through Sunday, April 17.
Trapani, who also directs this production, writes of the motivation behind “my decision to set the play in the here and now: Young people continue to die tragically, even in the US of A, and not just in car accidents, but by their own hands and because of their own anguish and there appears to be nothing we older folk can do to stop it.” He has underscored the entire production with music from the late 1960s through the early 2010s that comments, in title, music and lyrics, on the action of each scene.
Brian Roberts and Cheyenne See play the title roles, with two actresses, Vera Perry and Molly Feibel, interestingly cross-gendered as the scrappy youths Tybalt and Mercutio. Also in the cast are David Foster and Lisa Lynds as Lord and Lady Capulet, Andy Weintraub and Kathleen Crampton as Lord and Lady Montague, Diana di Grandi as Juliet’s Nurse and Joe Eriole as Friar Lawrence, plus Jane Carney, Tommy Comolli, Niall Johnson, Zoe Munn, Jim O’Neill and John Schmitz. The contemporary costumes were designed by Grace Obee, with lighting design by Lobsang Camacho.
Performances of Romeo & Juliet begin at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, April 8, 9, 15 and 16, with 3 p.m. matinées on Sundays, April 10 and 17. Tickets cost $24 general admission and $22 for seniors and children. For the full Shakespeare Festival schedule and to purchase tickets, visit www.centerforperformingarts.org, or call the box office at (845) 876-3080 between 12 noon and 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays or 1 and 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck is located at 661 Route 308, three miles east of the Rhinebeck village center.