ACT Theatre’s Romeo + Juliet touched the heart and tickled the soul. The actors continuously took the audience from laughing to holding their breath in suspense. I was constantly on the edge of my seat, waiting for what came next. In a play as familiar as Romeo + Juliet, there were vulnerable moments and heart-wrenching scenes that came as a surprise.
Chain link fence, tarp, and concrete surrounded the audience and stage. The set reminded me of the immigrant detention center in Tacoma, where I have witnessed children travel hundreds of miles to spend a few minutes with an exiled parent. Like immigrants in the detention center, Romeo and Juliet had a hard choice to make. They could leave their homes and families for a better life together. A life without fighting and death. Leaving means losing the life they have known. If they stay, their true love could be killed in the cross-fire, but they would have their family and parents around them.
As a teenager myself, I don’t know how Romeo and Juliet had the courage to choose one or the other. To stay or flee.
There were some amazing stunts on the fences. At one point, Romeo hopped a full size chain link fence to see Juliet, and on his way back down, they met at the top and shared a kiss. A kiss on top of the fence and on top of the world.
In this production, Romeo and the Friar were both deaf, and spoke in ASL (American Sign Language). This made the divide between Romeo and Juliet more tangible and real. One of the sweetest, most realistic scenes was when Juliet rushed into the bedroom where her nurse was folding laundry and asked to learn ASL for Romeo. The nurse grudgingly agreed, and when Juliet spewed out a perfect Shakespearean monologue for translation, the nurse just shook her head in disbelief. As if saying, teenagers can be so difficult. There were several down to earth moments like that where the audience remembered Romeo and Juliet were just kids.
The story of Romeo and Juliet existed long before Shakespeare and continues to inspire people today. Clearly, everyone wants to find the person who makes them feel the way Romeo and Juliet did for each other, but is it even possible? And would we really want that? Because we might lose them. They may be killed, or move away, or just wake up one morning and realize they do not love you anymore. Is it worth it? Is it worth going through the pain of losing the person you love for that time when you can be together? Romeo and Juliet definitely thought so. They were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to be with each other. To leave everything behind: family, possessions, community, even breath. How much more in love can you be than that?
Which brings up a whole new question, Romeo and Juliet met only three days before committing suicide. Would they have lasted? Were they really meant to be? People say opposites attract, and that’s definitely true for magnets, but Romeo and Juliet came from different worlds. It would be like a boy from a very conservative, Trump supporting family, falling in love with a liberal, Bernie Sanders girl. It would be hard, they would always be compromising, avoiding subjects, and giving up or hiding their beliefs for each other. Would it ever really work out? Who knows, but the story hits home. It is a story about love that is worth breaking society’s rules and risking everything for.
Lead photo credit: Joshua Castille and Gabriella O’Fallon in Romeo + Juliet; photo by Chris Bennion.
Kessa is a 9th grade home-schooled student.
This review was written as part of the Theater & Dance Press Corps Intensive.
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