How do you tell the oft-told Shakespeare tale of the tragic romance of Romeo and Juliet from an urgent, fresh perspective, to a contemporary audience demanding a take on the classic play that speaks to them directly? Well, then, you do what The Winchendon School’s Theatre Group did this past weekend.
TWS’ adaptation of Romeo and Juliet doesn’t relocate Verona to a space colony or incorporate Twitter fights in place of sword fights; instead, director Elizabeth Peterson and her cast opted for stark, monochromatic costuming (black for the Montagues, white for the Capulets) and zeroing in on the emotional frustration, angst, and glory of young love and being young in general. Youth, in fact, was a key strength on the production, noted Ms. Peterson. “One of the best parts of the whole process for me is how much of a collaborative effort it [was]. We had at least ten students and teachers working on the set, we had a cast of over twenty students—some of whom had never done theatre before—and everyone contributed many of their talents and ideas that came together for the final production.”
The play’s acting was uniformly terrific. Josh K. ’17 deftly balanced Romeo’s lanky boyishness with an intelligent, romantic volatility. His performance conveyed both the dignity and recklessness so essential to the Romeo role. Teagan M. ’20 was a spirited, poised Juliet; her watershed moment—the “Wherefore art thou, Romeo” balcony monologue—was so honestly handled that the scene’s emotional beats feel genuinely, newly unearthed, a potent discovery of first love. It’s a testament to her and her co-lead that although the audience feels the undertow of adulthood threatening to pull them both down, they still manage to project an undimmed hopefulness.
Sophie L. ’17, as Romeo’s right-hand confidant Mercutio, was so effective, so subtly simmering, she stole nearly every scene she was in. Her Mercutio was moody, yet sympathetic—a far cry from the peppy, bohemian drama teacher she played in the fall’s High School Musical—and her heartbreaking stage death set the play on a spiral toward its tragic finale. A.J. S. ’18 as Benvolio and Hsin-Hang Sean L. ’18 as Tybalt turned in intense, physical performances, and Rebecca L. ’19, as Juliet’s harried nurse, was a humorous, touchingly tender respite amongst the turmoil.
“It was very fulfilling to create such a uniquely Winchendon production of Romeo and Juliet.” Ms. Peterson reflected, the play as proof that you don’t need to totally reinvent Shakespeare for a modern stage, but infuse it instead with new perspective, energy, and life.