Shakespearean classic comes to SDSU

Tanya Marsh

Tanya Marsh

Simple. In a word, that will be SDSU’s version of one of the greatest love stories of all time as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet comes to the stage this Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30p.m. in Donor Auditorium.

Director JD Ackman, an associate professor of communication studies and theater on campus, explained what the production was shooting for. “Our intent is not really to make it unusual or unique but simply to tell the story as cleanly and as clearly as possible,” he said.

“Cleanly and clearly” for this group essentially translates to no setting. No complicated sets and scenery, no flashy costumes – not even an intermission.

Senior Dietr Poppen, who plays Benvolio in the production, elaborated. “It’s not modernized – it’s not set in any period. We are not putting any emphasis on period, on costumes. Our set is very basic, no fancy scene changes, no intermission. It’s all about the action of the play and the characters involved,” he said.

Sarah Schanzenbach, a freshman playing the role of Juliet, agreed. “The concept for our version is the simpler, the better,” she said. “The stage is very bare, the costumes are very plain, and there will be no scene changes, breaks between scenes, and no intermission.”

Romeo and Juliet without a break? Do not start to shudder yet. Kent Muller, a freshman playing Balthazaar, said, “It’s [about] a two-hour show but you don’t feel like you’re sitting there for two hours because the momentum is always going.”

Ackman said the intermission cut was made to help keep the play true to Shakespearean form. “One of the things I wanted to do was try to perform it as it was written to be performed — in Shakespeare’s own theater, they wouldn’t have lots of scenery, and so the actors have to create the environment.” The intermission is part of that. “We’re going to run it without an intermission because … to take an intermission would stop the action of the story inappropriately.” He said while modern plays and musicals are written for a break, Romeo and Juliet was not. “The so-called classics, a certain distance back in time, and intermission was unheard of,” he said. Without this break, the cast is hoping the audience will be carried away by the story. “We want the audience to get caught up in the story instead of external things like costumes and scenery,” Schanzenbach said.

Poppen echoed the idea. “Telling the story – that’s really what our emphasis is. Shakespeare really knew how to take pretty much any story and turn it into an amazing story, and I think we’re doing a really good job of telling or portraying the story.”

This retelling of a classic is one students will not want to miss, the cast assures. Poppen encouraged one and all to turn out for the performance. “Oftentimes, the only experience most students have with Shakespeare is reading it in high school, and they don’t frequently get a chance to see Shakespeare done, and when they do, it sometimes isn’t done very well,” he said. “If they come to see [the play], they’d see the Shakespeare they were meant to see and not how they read it in school.”

Janelle Wieseler, a sophomore portraying Lady Montague, explained what the difference was between reading it and seeing it. “A lot of people only read Shakespeare in high school, and when you read it you don’t get the in-depth of producing a play. With a play you get to see people saying the words, so it’s different – when you hear someone say it, you understand,” she said.

Better grasping the words read as a high school student isn’t the only reason to check out Romeo and Juliet, Schanzenbach said – there’s also “love, murder, swordplay, sex jokes, quarreling families, suicide, the poetry of Shakespeare, and above all, one of the greatest stories ever told. What more could you ask for?” she said.

Poppen added, “It’s a show with comedy; it’s a tragedy; it’s a lot more exciting than what people have been lead to believe.” Ackman had final sentiments to share. “It’s a great story … one of the all-time classic love stories. We have good actors here at SDSU – people should come and see them work.”