Featuring a cast and crew of nearly 60, Fairfax High is presenting “Romeo and Juliet.” But this version is set in a different time period than the original and has a surprising amount of humor.
“It’s challenging for the students because it’s Shakespeare,” said Theater Director Chris Whitney. “But they’re making his language accessible to audience members, so they’ll understand what’s going on at all times. It’s been over 10 years since this school did a Shakespeare play, so it’s good to bring it back. And the actors are finding the humor in this one, while also playing the tragic parts very well.”
The curtain rises Thursday-Friday, Nov. 9-10, at 7 p.m.; and Saturday, Nov. 11, at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $7, students and $10, adults via fxplayers.org or $12 at the door.
Whitney put this play into a dystopian era, explaining that “We’re just coming out of the pandemic, and this show is about two people finding love in a hopeless place. In fact, Rihanna’s hit song, ‘We Found Love,’ is even in this show. It’s not a musical, but it’s during a party scene with dancing.”
The actors also have a professional fight director, Robb Hunter, who’s teaching them how to safely use stage knives and clubs during some action scenes. “For people who don’t like Shakespeare, I hope they’ll appreciate the language,” said Whitney. “And for those who do, I hope they’ll enjoy the fresh take of the world we’re creating.”
Another thing different about Fairfax’s production is that the male role of Romeo is being played by a girl, senior Kaylee Williams. Why? “Because she auditioned for it and was great,” said Whitney.
“I wanted to get more experience with fight choreography,” said Williams. “And I also like Shakespeare, so I wanted to try out for the lead. And since this version is set in the future, I thought a girl playing Romeo would make it unique and set it apart from other versions.
“Romeo’s about 17 and is a lovesick, hopeless romantic who also likes hanging with his friends. At first, he’s in love with another girl, but then sees Juliet and falls in love. So one of the show’s messages is, don’t rush into things and tread lightly.”
She said it’s fun playing a male role because it gets her out of her comfort zone and lets her explore different acting styles. And, she added, “It’s a cool experience to do Shakespeare. I’ve never done one of his plays before, so it’s a good learning experience for me.”
Regarding this production, Williams said, “Since it’s set in a dystopian time period, we have issues that are current and will help the audience connect to the show. Some examples are the feuding between two powerful families and the fact that the dance party is held at a club, instead of a royal ballroom.”
Portraying Juliet is senior Matillda Awad. Describing her character as “both naïve and mature,” Awad said Juliet is “intrigued by the prospect of love and how it’ll enhance her life. She wants to be an adult faster and thinks love will bring her there. She’s also bubbly and always willing to talk to people and make new friends – and that’s what leads her to Romeo.”
“I can relate to her because we’re both teenage girls experiencing love for the first time,” continued Awad. “And I get to make lots of jokes and show both maturity and immaturity. I also play very dramatic scenes. I’m trying to show Juliet as a moody, hormonal teen who – when she doesn’t get her own way – can even be whiny.” She also noted that, since her real-life twin sister, Jessica, portrays Juliet’s family nurse, it’s easy to show the dynamic between those two characters onstage.
She said audiences will like this show because Whitney included elements and trends prevalent in today’s world, such as TikTok dances and “people being split between ideas and not wanting to compromise – and how that can lead to heartbreak. And the actors really emphasize all the jokes so the audience will understand them.”
Junior Kat Pascual plays Friar Laurence, Verona’s main priest. “He’s a father figure to Romeo, who’s a Montague, but also friendly with Juliet’s family, the Capulets. So he’s a neutral force trying his best to stop the feud between the two families. He’s like a guidance counselor – he wants what’s best for everybody but doesn’t have the best methods of making it happen, so he’s under lots of pressure.”
Pascual’s having a good time playing this part because, she said, “I genuinely enjoyed Shakespeare, even before this show, so I like making it accessible to modern audiences. And it’s fun to be the level-headed person amidst all the craziness. I’m in a lot of scenes with Kaylee, who’s Romeo, and I like playing off the heightened emotions other people are throwing at me.”
She said all the actors are making sure the show is funny. “The first half is truly hilarious,” said Pascual. “And even after that, when it gets serious, it’ll still be more relatable than people expect it to be. Seeing it performed live, in front of them, will make it more tangible.”
Portraying the Capulet family’s nurse and maid is senior Jessica Awad. “She acts as the maternal figure for Juliet because her actual mother isn’t very present in her life and doesn’t give her the love she needs,” explained Awad. “She’s responsible for Juliet and cares a lot for her, so she at first advises Juliet to marry eligible bachelor Paris because he’d be a safe option for her. And the family’s against Romeo because he’s a Montague.”
Noting that her character has no filter and says what she thinks, Awad said, “She’ll even tell dirty jokes and speaks her mind honestly to Juliet. I like playing her because she shows lots of different emotions. She’s sad when Juliet’s upset that Romeo’s been banished, but is happy, funny and laughing with her in the beginning of the show. And because Matillda’s my sister, it’s easy to portray that love and strong bond between our characters.”
She said people will like “how many parts of the show are so lively, but you can also cry with Juliet and Romeo and really feel their love and how it’s a rollercoaster of emotions. I think the theme of love will make a big impact on the audience.”