Romeo, Juliet get modern makeover

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It's the classic star-crossed-lovers story that's almost everyone's first foray into Shakespearean literature, but audiences probably haven't seen Romeo and Juliet on stage quite like this.

The four actors from Georgia Shakespeare:  Ann Marie Gideon (from left), Brian Harrison, Caitlin McWethy and Casey Hoekstra.
The four actors from Georgia Shakespeare: Ann Marie Gideon (from left), Brian Harrison, Caitlin McWethy and Casey Hoekstra.

Georgia Shakespeare director Allen O'Reilly and core actors Casey Hoekstra, Caitlin McWethy, Brian Harrison and Ann Marie Gideon will join 12 local high school actors and seven Augusta State University actors on stage to deliver a modern day version. Don't expect the Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes version, though.

Set in 2011 at a Catholic school, the new twist draws on the original intentions of the play and forces actors to carry on with the language of the original setting. But fight scenes with lacrosse sticks and vengeful Tybalt played by a female change the dynamic.

"It's still the same language and text, what differs is how we emphasize it," said Evan Baker, an Augusta State student who will take on the role of Benvolio.

Keeping their movements modern, especially in their handling of fight scenes, is also important, said Dustin Scott, a Greenbrier High School junior who will portray Gregory.

"It's easy to fall into how we'd normally react, but we still have to keep in mind that we're in a big city setting and this isn't exactly Augusta," Scott said.

The cast's split rehearsal locations, with the core players in Atlanta, has also kept local actors on their toes so they're ready to tackle intensive combined rehearsals this week.

"You really do have to do your homework and be off book so we can get the most out of rehearsals," said Patrick Johnson, a Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School junior who's portraying Sampson.

Veteran Bob Rollins, who has been a cast member with Alabama Shakespeare and will play the role of the Prince, and local director coordinator Walter Evans, also bring depth to the Augusta stage and serve as mentors to the young actors.

Evans, who has seen more than a half-dozen versions of Romeo and Juliet performed live, said Hoekstra's take on Juliet brought him to tears.

"It's the first time I've seen a Juliet who was innocent without being naive," he said. 'She's intelligent and there's a maturity about her, but she's not ignorant."

Although buying into the young love themes is sometimes difficult for the younger cast members, Rollins said as he's revisited the play later in life, it's taught him that Romeo and Juliet's actions are how hopeless romantics would react.

"The production just tickles me pink and I'm so proud that they've involved high school students," Rollins said.

Augusta State student Jacques Fournier, who plays Peter and Paris' page, was even willing to quit his job to be part of the production. He said it sounds dramatic, but the timing of the one-week intense rehearsals worked out where it was just easier to quit the part-time work before heading back to class full time.

"It is a lot of commitment and we missed some things during the holidays, like hanging out with friends just to head to a practice, but this experience is worth everything that might seem like a hassle to someone else," Fournier said. "Whenever you're acting, or pursuing any passion, you have to decide what's more important."

While most of the cast has experience on stage, Fournier said knowing that he was chosen out of the more than 40 area actors who auditioned only forces him to elevate his performance.

"I saw Bob (Rollins) audition for my part and I left not nearly as confident as I came in," he said. "But the great thing about drama is it forces everyone to be creative and to bring their best game."

'Romeo and juliet'

WHEN: 8 p.m. Jan. 13-15

WHERE: Augusta State University Maxwell Performing Arts Theater, 2500 Walton Way

TICKETS: (706) 667-4100 or (706) 667-4099


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