New Swan’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ is to Die For

Of all Shakespeare’s plays, ‘Romeo & Juliet’ is by far the most well-known. We’ve seen the scenes countless times in many adaptations: the scene where their eyes meet across the dance floor, the balcony scene, and yes, even the scene of their infamous deaths. What makes this play enjoyable to watch, even though we know how it will play out, is to each production’s interpretations of this timeless text.

On August 7th, I went to see Romeo & Juliet at the New Swan Theater on UCI’s campus. This production, directed by Eli Simon, stayed true to its 16th century time period, though the intimacy of the small theater space allowed for a new experience while watching this classic play.

As I entered the theater, I was taken aback by how close the seats are to the stage itself—the main stage floor ends directly into the seats of the “groundlings”, who, like in Shakespearian times, were able to see the show up close and personal. My seat was only one row up, so I too felt as if I were a part of the stage. During the first sword fight between the Montagues and the Capulets, the fighting took place directly next to my face, which certainly made for an exciting experience—I had the unique feeling that I was actually a part of the brawl.

Because it is an outdoor theater, there are many elements to this play that cannot be done in a traditional indoor setting. For example the actors would run inside and out constantly, hide amongst the audience, and use real torches.

The conflict in ‘Romeo & Juliet’ arises from the feud between two families: the Montagues and Capulets, who both live in Verona, Italy. Romeo (Adam Schroeder), a Montague, falls in love with Juliet (Leslie Lank), a Capulet. The hatred between the two families causes much death as a result of their ill-fated love.

In my opinion, the portrayal of Romeo was more true to the nature of the character than I’ve seen in many adaptations. In his lines where he bemoans his own fortune, whether it be because of the unrequited love of Rosaline or that he has been banished from Verona, his complaints were exaggerated to the point of seeming childish and frankly, quite funny. After escaping to the Friar once he has murdered Tybalt, Romeo believes himself to be unlucky that he was not killed, and in protest of his fate he lies face down on the ground, refusing to move even when a visitor comes that may endanger his life. The exasperation of the Friar, who is trying to save this boy, is felt by the audience and also brings laughter. Romeo is seen not as the perfect image of romance, but rather a young boy who is constantly filled with exaggerated desire and sorrow.

My favorite scene was the one in which Romeo and Juliet meet because this version was different than any other that I’ve seen. The two characters lock eyes, and as they romance each other, the rest of the characters are distracted by a colorful light show up above. Time stops, and Romeo and Juliet embrace, though if one looks towards the mob of other characters, one will notice that Juliet’s nurse is the only character who sees their kiss. I thought that this was a very clever way to introduce the two lovers who are oblivious to those who are blinded by their own hatred.

I would definitely recommend seeing this version of Romeo & Juliet at the New Swan Theater. The season this year ends on August 30th, and all performances begin at 8 pm.