ACT’s production of Romeo + Juliet, directed by John Langs, added new aspects to the play like American Sign Language that intrigued and mesmerized the audience. Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet, the love, the laughter and the pain. But this production added a new form of communication, American Sign Language. Although the play Romeo and Juliet has been done time and time again, this production was able to make it new with the sets, actors, and directing they used. The new communication used in the play added parts to the story not used in the original play, allowing a deeper look at the characters’ lives not seen before.
They used a small stage, with the seats surrounding it like a colosseum. Throughout the three hour long play, the actors interacted with the audience. In one scene, Mercutio jokingly asked a little girl to dance, and Benvolio complimenting a woman’s pants in an attempted joke at Romeo. The props, including a table and three small chain link fences, were used and moved by the actors for each scene. With these, they were able to create a surprising variety of different scenery. From the intimacy of Juliet’s balcony, to the streets of Verona where Tybalt and Mercutio are slain, to a scene reminiscent of the rumble scene in West Side Story, the chain link fences and lighting resembling the same dark alley, gang violence notions.
Romeo, played by Joshua M. Castille, and Friar Lawrence, played by Howie Seago, both only communicated their lines through sign. The production was well able to communicate their lines. While Romeo and the Friar acted, the rest of the cast stood on the sides of the stage, speaking the lines as they were signed. Castille and Seago’s performances were beautiful and astoundingly powerful, even though their voices were acted by others.
It is, however, hard to forget that you are seeing a play written in the late 1500’s. Some scenes, although meant seriously, are almost laughable at times. The scenes between Romeo and Juliet were passionate and well acted, yes, but were outdated. It would have been interesting to have more references to present day rather than simply the costumes and the set. Other than the Nurse, played by Amy Thone, sipping on her flask throughout the play, Lord Capulet, played by Reginald Andre Jackson was the character who changed his tone the most to match his character in modern day.
Jackson was one of the only two people of color in the cast (of those who had lines). The accent he used was African American Vernacular English, which doesn’t quite fit the story, as it is set in Italy. It was only Capulet who used this accent. To his lines, he added emphases on certain words. This was fun to listen to because it allowed the audience to relate more to the play. The predominantly white audience laughed at his lines, but not being a black person myself, I hesitated, not knowing if it was appropriate for me to laugh at a joke maybe not meant to be racially influenced. Accents like these and code switching are not commonly things that white Americans have to deal with, so having them laugh at a joke that they cannot—through the lack of experience—understand.
Although there were some setbacks to this production of the play, the actors and creators of the show allowed a new twist on Romeo + Juliet that was interesting for most to see, were they were new or old to Shakespeare.
Lead photo credit: Joshua Castille and Chip Sherman in Romeo + Juliet. Photo by Chris Bennion.
Linnea Fast is an 11th grader at Roosevelt High School.
This review was written as part of the Theater & Dance Press Corps Intensive.
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