Hello, this is Peter Selawsky blogging from the Cal Shakes rehearsal hall. I’ve been coming to Cal Shakes productions since I was a child growing up in the East Bay, and I’m very excited for the opportunity to sit in on rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet and write about the process I’m witnessing.
On Tuesday, June 4, at the first-rehearsal Meet-and-Greet for Romeo and Juliet, director Shana Cooper shared her thoughts about her upcoming Cal Shakes production. Cooper envisions a raw Romeo and Juliet that strips away the expectations and preconceptions most of us have built up around one of Shakespeare’s most well-known works, honing in on the extremity of the elemental human passions at the heart of the play—hate and love. In Shakespeare’s Verona, the two passions are equally important, equally powerful, and equally inexplicable: Just as we can never explain the origin of love, we never learn the cause of the famous family feud that drives the play’s tension.
Love has the potential to heal the houses’ rancor, and offers an oasis or sanctuary in the very heart of a world of violence. Romeo and Juliet find love in a sea of hate, and it briefly transforms them into their best selves, giving them unexpected strength and courage. The play asks us whether or not true love can overcome a history of hate, sustaining itself against a world of violence where everything seems to conspire to push the characters towards their worst, most primal selves. Some moments in the play, such as Juliet’s willingness to be buried alive in order to remain faithful to her love, inspire great hope in the triumph of love. But in abandoning himself to his rage and killing Tybalt, Romeo perpetuates the cycle of violence that defines the world of Verona, turning a potential comedy irreversibly toward tragedy.
For all the play’s talk of star-crossed lovers and fortune’s fools, Shakespeare suggests that it is not fate, but the very basic human choice of hate over love in a moment of passion that shapes the course of these lives. As such, the production will emphasize the comedy and occasionally surprising tonal shifts of the play’s first half, creating a world where the inescapable brutality of the second half makes love all the more miraculous. Small miracles of joy and humor allow small moments of love, distracting us from the harsher surrounding reality.
With a cast of only seven, the production will be marked by a fluid, guerilla theater-influenced style featuring quick changes of costumes and visible character shifts. This—along with stark, minimal scenery and a setting bound to no particular place or time—places the focus entirely on a small group of actors who will become both chorus and street performers in order to tell a universal story.
Romeo and Juliet begins previews on July 3, opening July 6. Rehearsals are now fully underway, and I will be updating this blog with periodic posts on the production’s ongoing development and rehearsal process. Look for a preview of Romeo and Juliet’s costume and set design up next.
Big thanks go to Jay Yamada for making this blogging fellowship possible.