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The cast of "Holly Down In Heaven" bow after the performance on Wednesday in Kantner Hall. (FILE)

‘Romeo and Juliet’ defy the stars in '90s Berlin during OU School of Theater production

Correction appended.

“Being in night, all this is but a dream, Too flattering-sweet to be substantial,” Romeo says at one point in the tragic love story Romeo and Juliet. True to seeming like a dream, the Ohio University School of Theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet uses smoke and sounds to portray both the dream-like state of falling in love and the nightmarish clashes of two houses with an ancient grudge.

And of course, there’s the dreamy couple of star-crossed lovers: The titular Romeo and Juliet. The two are neither fools nor governed by cold logic. They are affected by life’s strongest instinct, and use unlikely and perhaps idealistic means to be together.

“From one perspective, it’s a love story,” Jackson Savage, a senior studying theater performance and Romeo’s actor, said. “From another perspective, it’s just two hormonal, idiotic teenagers doing what they do. But neither one of those are really the reason that it plays out the way it does … What happens is a result of Romeo and Juliet being failed by their parent figures, or another way to put it, the older generation.”

The School of Theater will perform Romeo and Juliet beginning Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Forum Theater in the RTV Building. Shows will take place in the same theater at the same time April 5, 6 and 10-13.

Though the script has not been altered for OU’s production in any way beyond making cuts for time, the set and costumes are constructed to clearly give the appearance of a different time and place. The Berlin Wall is presented starkly in the background, with bits and pieces of it falling down throughout the play. The characters wear ripped jeans, jackets and headphones. This is Germany in the early 1990s.

And yet even with the Elizabethan language, Shakespeare’s story remains pertinent enough to make sense almost anywhere and any in time it’s set, perhaps taking on new context but always keeping the same emotional meaning and relevance to modern life.

“My hunch is that at their core, people want to root for love,” Jonathan Hetler, a graduate student for whom Romeo and Juliet is his thesis production, said. “People want love at first sight. They want love at first words. They want something that we look to as maybe the prime example of what true love really is, weirdly enough, even though they die after being together for five days.”

Characters go far beyond the two titular ones: Mercutio in particular steals the show, taking Shakespeare’s euphemisms and giving them blatant sexual motions. Friar Laurence and Juliet’s nurse act more as Romeo’s and Juliet’s caretakers than their actual parents, both wanting love for the couple but warning them not to be hasty.

The set is astoundingly beautiful. Lights, sounds and sights come together in a way that puts on just as much of a show as the actors. There is very seldom just one thing or person to look at, with extra actors and set pieces lending more depth and character even in moments when those characters aren’t in the spotlight.

“I love Juliet,” said Camila Benencia, a senior studying theater performance and Juliet’s actress. “She’s one of the smartest female characters in all of Shakespeare canon. And simply for the fact that she’s one of the only characters, that for the most part solves every single one of her problems. … And I love her imagination and creativity.”

Many people can’t get over Romeo and Juliet’s seemingly idiotic and naive choices. But the play’s point has never been to portray the two as geniuses who made the right choice. They were — and still are — two lovers whose love was tragically never given the chance to grow.


Correction: A previous version of this report and its headline incorrectly stated that this performance is the School of Theaters final production of the academic year. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.

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