The University of North Carolina-Charlotte’s Theater Department has updated Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” fusing the classic themes of forbidden love and family feuding with elements of modern society and technology. Though at times overdone, the twist created an entertaining evening.
To emphasize and introduce the feud that caused such distance between the two lovers, these words by U2’s Bono showed on three overhead projectors. “For love and sex and faith and fear and all the things that keep us here in the mysterious distance between a man and a woman.” This version, titled “Romeo.Juliet,” explores the distance between man and woman that will never cease to be a part of humanity.
The play began brilliantly, with a party where adolescents danced and embodied the youthful angst that crosses centuries. In “Romeo.Juliet,” the girls danced and stood seductively, depicting the drunken, carefree life that exists in modern clubs. They danced to contemporary club beats, as strobe lights zoomed around the room.
After the party, Romeo checked Facebook, and we saw the headline “Facebook party ends in brawl” projected on a large screen. Throughout the play, projectors showed incoming calls, Skype conversations or Facebook posts and pictures.
The second half revealed the dependence our current society has on technology. When chaplain Lawrence e-mails Romeo to let him know Juliet is not dead but sleeping, this “high importance” e-mail never gets sent. Thus Romeo believes Juliet to be dead and kills himself. (Sometimes, it’s a better idea to call.)
Technological additions did not detract from the play but enhanced the humor and contemporary feel. The acting also had strength but was inconsistent. Sammy Hajmahmoud played the wide-eyed boy smitten by a beautiful girl; Gina Herrera was the young, naïve girl in love. In the first half, they convinced us of their immature desires. But as the play wore on, the gleam in Romeo’s wide eyes went from gripping to dull; Juliet’s overly expressed naïveté, demonstrated by her girlish bouncing and flailing gestures, failed to deepen as her character changed. Like Benjamin Dudley as Lord Capulet, they relied on raised voices and quick speech to show emotion, instead of allowing Shakespeare’s powerful words to resonate.
Robert Artlett, who played the friend and caretaker of young Juliet, spoke clearly and relied confidently on both his natural talents and the essence of his character to empower his performance. (Remember, the play was performed mostly by college students; they’ll need years of training and experience to fully portray such strong emotions as fear of death or loss of a loved one.)
Too easily can these themes of forbidden love and blood feuds become overwrought and clichéd, but UNCC used the correct balance of tradition and technology to make “Romeo.Juliet” fresh and enjoyable. It’s unsurprising that a play so filled with themes of life and death could do more than entertain.
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