Who said William Shakespeare’s classic works couldn’t enter a 20th century setting?
While there may be some purists in the world today, if the Bard’s famed Globe Theatre can rally behind a reimagined “Romeo & Juliet,” then so can Flagstaff’s annual Renaissance reactors.
And with the rum-running fervor, flapper girls and crowbar fights of the Roaring Twenties, this rendition of Shakespeare’s standard is poised to knock audiences down.
Gearing up for its first full year after 2015's "Twelfth Night" production, the Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival presents “O Brawling Love!” a duo of tales of star-crossed romance with “Romeo & Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“Romeo & Juliet” takes place at the Orpheum Theater July 23 and 29 at 7:30 p.m; July 24 at 3 p.m.; and July 30 at 2 p.m. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” takes place at the Museum of Northern Arizona July 22, 28 and 30 at 7:30 p.m; July 23 at 2 p.m; and at the Arboretum July 31 at 3 p.m. Learn more and purchase tickets at Flagshakes.com.
Prologue to opening act
Clad in a sleek powder pink dress, Dawn Tucker truly captures Juliet Capulet come to life in the 1920s, especially next to John Way’s three-piece suit styled in the House of Montague and his character’s best friend, Nick Rabe as Mercutio.
Tucker and Rabe, both Flagstaff natives, share a connection to Shakespeare that bloomed after experiencing stunning live productions.
“I really wanted to be an actress since I can remember. And when I was about 13, I narrowed that down to Shakespeare actress,” Tucker explained, smiling.
Both found it odd that there was no annual Shakespeare festival in town, so they got to work utilizing personal networks webbed over time. The actors in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” originate mainly in the Valley with Southwest Shakespeare. Many players in “Romeo & Juliet,” like Rabe, are Theatrikos veterans.
The Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival is also a brand new 501(c)(3), a nonprofit status that will help the organization further its slow-growth mission of inclusivity, bringing Shakespeare to all facets of the community.
“It offers endless permutations,” Rabe added of Shakespeare’s timeless writing. “I think it’s some of the most accessible theatre despite what some people might think.”
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And while Rabe noted there are some who simply don’t enjoy Shakespearean theatre, this local company full of trained Shakespeare scholars, including Tucker, has been dedicated to bringing his works to the community in thoughtful selection and across venues.
For the stage
The timeless nature of Shakespeare’s words translates on stage as director Christine Schmidle, Deputy Text Associate at the Globe Theatre in London, noted that if the actors understand what they are saying, then the audience will understand, too.
Furthering familiarity, a major catalyst for bringing this particular adaptation, arranged by a former Globe Artistic Director, to Flagstaff is the history of the Orpheum itself. Established near the turn of the century as a movie house, films would screen while live actors staged vignettes.
“Christine, with ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ is really doing an homage to the Orpheum,” Tucker explained. “That’s why we set it in the 1920s. We have a couple of movie elements to the show where we’re incorporating the feeling of a movie house, the feeling of when this building was first built so we can get the idea of the place into the show.”
Schmidle added this version plays retraces local history and parallels Shakespeare’s roots as well while honoring the text.
“My mind turned to Shakespeare when I was 13 because I saw an incredible production. The other thing I really want to do is get this in front of my kids; I’m a teacher,” said Tucker, who also teaches English at Northland Preparatory Academy, noting the marked difference between reading and seeing Shakespeare.
Way echoed the sentiment of live Shakespeare relating the visceral human emotion, and its ability to unpack the tension behind the words — a strength of this cut of the play, too, that depicts scenes concurrently instead of sequentially.
“It brings a modern twist that doesn’t involve lights or smoke and mirrors,” Way explained. “You’re using the same words, just cut a different order that really brings out and accents more of the drama that’s going on.”
As an actor, Way added this version recreates Shakespeare’s original intent in presentation, too, with minimal props and set changes, like the cast recreates a Renaissance-era acting troupe.
He added, “The beauty of this production is we’re really trying to get back to what makes these characters human … and how easily, if we were in their situation, we could be doing the exact same thing.”