CORVALLIS, Ore. – For the first time in nearly a century, the University Theatre program at Oregon State University will present a Shakespearean play as it was meant to be done – in the great out-of-doors.
Director Scott Palmer says a quick check into University Archives found that this August’s adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” – which will be staged in the Memorial Union quad – appears to be the first Shakespearean play at OSU performed outdoors since the 1920s.
“These plays are meant to be performed outdoors,” Palmer said. “Why bring in 500 lights if you have the sun and the moon and the stars and the voices? Shakespeare was written to be performed outdoors. As Romeo and Juliet enter the tomb, and the sun is going down, audiences and actors are really focused on the beauty of the language.”
OSU’s outdoor adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” will have a run of eight performances, Aug. 9-12 and Aug. 16-19, all beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets may be reserved by calling 541-737-2784 and can be picked up at the box office in the Memorial Union an hour before each show.
Palmer says he wants patrons to have an experience that surpasses that of traditional, indoor theater, thus audience members are encouraged to bring blankets, chairs and perhaps even a picnic, as seating will not be provided in the Memorial Union quad lawn.
The outdoor setting isn’t the only new wrinkle. While the OSU performance will remain true to the play’s timeless saga of young love, dueling families and desperate tragedy, Palmer has adapted the script and deftly pared the cast down to eight actors, cutting characters and adding one of his own. Playing several different roles, such as the prince and the apothecary, the Voyeur is a character created by Palmer to help focus the show in a new direction.
“Shakespeare borrowed, stole and took what he needed,” Palmer said. “He was the master of adaptation; he had to be in order to make the material relevant to his audience.”
In an attempt to remain faithful to the spirit of the original manuscript, Palmer used some of the original source material used by Shakespeare. He also wrote some of his own verse in iambic pentameter and borrowed a few lines from English poet John Keats.
“If he could have, Shakespeare would have stolen from Keats, too,” mused Palmer.
Palmer admits he has been frustrated by past portrayals of Romeo and Juliet. “I want to examine their adult decisions rather than seeing them as wispy, puppy-eyed lovers,” he pointed out. “They thought things through, struggled and grappled with these adult decisions. I want this to shine through.”
The eight-person cast features OSU senior Brandon Robinson as Romeo and recent Philomath High School graduate Marza Warsinske as Juliet. Corvallis resident Robert Hirsh, who recently appeared in Palmer’s North American premiere of “Just One More Dance,” will take on the new role of the Voyeur.
Other cast members include Paul Pistey as Mercutio, Arin Dooley as Benvolia, Sarah Sheldrick as Lady Montague, Kimberly Holling as Lady Capulet, and Reilly Ferrell as Tybalt. The cast members are supported by more than a dozen OSU students and community members as extras.
In addition to Palmer, the crew includes OSU University Theatre faculty member George Caldwell as set designer, Barbara Moon as costume designer, and Kevin Walker as lighting designer.
This adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” is somewhat darker and more mature than some versions and may not be suitable for children under the age of 12.