Folger Theatre reinterprets Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet for modern audiences

Aaron Posner makes "Romeo and Juliet" more accessible to a wider audience at the Folger Theatre (photo by John Irwin).
Aaron Posner makes "Romeo and Juliet" more accessible to a wider audience at the Folger Theatre (photo by John Irwin).

Folger Theatre in Washington D.C. launched a new production of "Romeo and Juliet" that reads like any modern play and is available to college students at a reduced price.

Shakespeare has remained relevant in western culture throughout the centuries with millions of productions produced over the centuries since his death and regaled in high school English classrooms world-wide. Sometimes students cannot help but dread and fear the name.

Nearly every student in America knows the story of the most famous lovers: Romeo and Juliet. It is rare to get the chance to see a professional production take on this well-known tale of love and death in the Washington D.C. area.

Aaron Posner, director of "Romeo and Juliet" stated in a press release “'Romeo and Juliet' is the most well-known and most beloved of love stories. There is so much richness in the story and so much poetry in the language…my primary goal is to help audiences experience the play as if for the very first time.”

Posner is true to his word. As with his previous Shakespeare productions, including "Macbeth" and "Midsummer’s Night Dream," the primary goal of this play is to tell a love story to modern audiences.

While they speak the same lines and verses as students throughout the centuries have read  in their literature classes, the actors of this production bring the words to life.

Especially relatable to young and independent men and women is the heroine, Juliet, played by Erin Weaver. The woebegone, frail romantic is replaced by a confident yet totally controlled young woman. Her fears and desires are the same as many young people’s: she is mostly sensible and constantly struggling against her parents’ desires.

Romeo, played by Michael Goldsmith, acted opposite Juliet with an indignant rage that continues to pervade youth culture today. He seems so young, desperately fighting against those who wrong his friends and hating himself and everything around him to the point of tears when fate takes a turn for the worst.

By the end of the show, Romeo and Juliet’s deaths seem inevitable as they struggle against the bonds that Juliet’s terrifying father, played by Brian Dykstra, her persistent fiancé Paris, played by Joe Mallon, and her stubborn, hateful cousin Tybalt, played by Rex Daugherty, set against them.

This production of "Romeo and Juliet" is as much a tale of imprisonment as it is one of love.

“The sad reality is: it’s not just Shakespeare’s Verona. Right now, right here, we’re also losing innocent young people to homicide and suicide in alarming numbers," Posner wrote in his director's note of the Folger Theatre's "Romeo and Juliet" program. "Tragic events like the shooting in Newtown, CT stun us, and yet as a country we seem hard-pressed to find the political or social will to take the meaningful steps to try to prevent these tragic losses.”

This tale of Romeo and Juliet looks beyond the earnest love between two young people and into the heart of the constant struggle between two opposing sides: the Capulets and the Montagues.

As theatergoers exit the Folger Theatre, the U.S. Capitol building looms nearby, where the battle between two opposing sides continue to spark debate and build animosity in our American society, just as these two families sparked such flames in Verona.

Folger Theatre presents Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet" as a modern, gripping tale that young men and women will empathize with and follow with ease. Its crass and nearly constant humor paves the way for the tragic death of two prisoners of circumstance.

The production will be running from Oct. 15-Dec. 1 at the Folger Theatre. Student tickets are available Oct. 25 at 8:00 p.m. for $15 with student ID presented at the Folger Theatre Box Office.

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