“Love is love. Love isn’t reserved for men and women only and this is a show about the purest love ever.”
That’s what director Harry McEnerny has to say about Castleton’s upcoming production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Unlike the traditional casting of Romeo as a man and Juliet as a woman, both characters will be female.
“Remember, when Shakespeare wrote it, all the actors were boys. We would have two boys playing Romeo and Juliet in love,” McEnerny said.
This story of two women in love comes hot on the heels of this summer’s Supreme Court decision, which made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. McEnerny notes that Friar Laurence marries Romeo and Juliet no questions asked, which is how it should be for same sex couples now.
“It’s fun to think of the Capulets and Montagues and how they might be affected by their children in a same-sex relationship,” McEnerny said. The way this production is, the Montagues know about Romeo’s sexual orientation, Juliet’s nurse knows, but Juliet’s parents, the Capulets, may or may not know.
McEnerny commented on how some people were taken aback by the completely scripted same-sex kiss in “Spring Awakening” between two men. This show has non-traditional casting, with two girls, so it will be interesting to see how people react.
“One, two, three, four, five, six or so times we kiss,” counted Lexi Fryover, who will play Juliet.
While they try to stay true to Shakespeare’s language, some parts naturally had to be cut for length and many male pronouns are being replaced with female ones. While words are being switched, they are trying to keep the number of syllables the same to maintain the meter even if the rhyme changes.
Husband becomes loved one. Child becomes son.
“It’s been a huge challenge because I’ve grown up with Romeo as a boy. When I read the lines I naturally want to talk in a deeper voice,” said Brittany Rathburn, who will play Romeo. “It’s a matter of turning it around and making sense of it, not a matter of gender or sex. It’s about love.”
Fryover, playing the traditional female role, is excited to explore the different facets of Juliet’s personality.
“The role of Juliet is known for being a whiney and complaining character,” Fryover said. “But she’s smart. She’s got a quick wit. It’s been really fun to explore the other characteristics of her.”
Neither of the lead actresses has a background in Shakespeare. Both played witches in “Macbeth” last fall and participated in a Shakespearean workshop during their trip to London last February, but had minimal experience prior to Castleton.
“These characters think in Elizabethan English, so it’s our job to make sure the audience gets it, but we also hope the audience is open and willing to let Shakespeare come to them,” McEnerny said. “It’s a duel relationship.”
Shakespearean language is very different from modern American English, including unfamiliar terms and sentence structure.
“The challenge of the beat is you have to pay attention to the punctuation and what the sentence is actually saying,” Fryover said.
McEnerny said certain lines need to be emphasized more than others, such as an important conversation between Friar Laurence and Romeo where they discuss whether Romeo is in love with Juliet or merely doting on her.
The show will be in Casella Theater, Nov. 11-14 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 15 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Fine Arts Center box office.