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  • Lance Mannion
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Bill Altreuter

Right now, downstairs in my building, they are having auditions for this summer's Shakespeare in the Park. We are lucky in Buffalo-- we have an outdoor Shakespeare festival every year. Two plays, usually a tragedy and a comedy, or a comedy and a history. One is usually in period costume, the other in some sort of modern dress. I told them once they should do one dressed like characters from Star Trek, and got the fish eye, but I meant it in a friendly way. I'm not a fan of live theater generally, but Shakespeare is one of the exceptions I make, and we will usually go an picnic on the hill a couple of times for each play. My daughters will usually go on their own once or twice in addition.

They perform under some sort of Equity waiver-- usually there are two or three Equity actors, and the rest of the cast are local, non-Equity, but good, solid actors. They are downstairs now, in their black turtlenecks and berets, and no, I'm not kidding. I recognize quite a few of them, and others look like they have spent their lives working up to play the Friar in Romeo and Juliet.

I'm too lazy to go and look it up, but I'd say that over the years I've seen about a half dozen Romeo and Juliets in Delaware Park. It is not really a favorite of mine, although I suppose I like it better than you do, Lance. They do it a lot because it is popular, and it is popular because it is full of all kinds of good stuff. Lots of sword fights, lots of Romance, and an interesting balance between Young Love and smutty jokes that may be what the play is really about-- you know, the difference between falling in love when you are young, and remembering what it was like-- or misremembering, perhaps, when you are older. I can recall one exceptional Juliet, and one exceptionally bad Juliet. The rest are a blur. Can't recall any Romeos off hand. I can recall an exceptional Tibalt, and a couple of good Meructios. You can get away with a lot, I think, if your supporting cast is strong-- the best Meructio and the good Tibalt were both Equity performers.

I don't know if it really makes any sense to think of any characters in Shakespeare as gay, or even homosexual, btw. That sort of sexual definition is a much more modern perception, which is not to say that there weren't people who were attracted exclusively to members of the same sex, of course, but only that they, and society, probably didn't think of that attraction in the same way that we do.

We don't get R&J this summer-- I think the founder of the program has a hankering to play "Lear", and I'm not sure what the comedy will be, but I'm looking forward to it.


Damn, Lance - why weren't you teaching my freshman English class? Instead of Sister Julian ("OK, today we're going to read the part where Mercutio dies...") I could have had you explain to me that I wasn't completely wrong, that Mercutio really WAS by far the most interesting character in the whole damn play.

Have you ever written any commentary on King Lear (sophomore year) or Othello (junior year)?

How about Beowulf, or the Canterbury Tales? Anything on Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, or Eugene O'Neill? I know you've covered MacBeth and As You Like It and Moliere and commedia dell'arte (not to mention Rowlings and Parker and the best damn commentary on Tolkien I've ever read).

When are you going to publish an anthology of this stuff?

Ann Garner

I'm dramaturging / ADing a production of R&J this summer, and my initial thoughts on the play were: "Dear God no. Does anyone really want to see this insipid tragedy again?" But then I read it again. Surprise! It's actually a pretty good play.

I think, though, that it's time to re-examine our own underlying modern assumptions about the play. Do the leads *have* to be seething with adolescent passion? Why exactly? Their romance is conventional (even Juliet on the balcony is a convention of Medieval and Renaissance romance, something the original audience for the play would have known). Why *must* Mercutio be crazy / gay / flamboyant / nonsensical? Maybe he's just the epitome of the witty courtier, in love with langauge.

Maybe this isn't a play about the twin forces of love and hate battling for the soul of fair Verona. Maybe it's a study in the genres of comedy and tragedy mashed together. Maybe we don't have to play the end of the play (the tragedy) right from the beginning - which is, in my experience, what almost every production I've ever seen does and why they often don't work.

So I say, do the play - just don't do the version of the play that you've already seen a billion times. Don't assume Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrman got it right. Maybe they missed something.


I dislike Romeo and Juliet. Always have. For most of the reasons you name, in fact: the leads are the prisoners of the plot, many of the other characters are caricatures, and it steals the limelight from his other work.

(It also turns high schoolers off Shakespeare; it's inevitably the first or second play they're exposed to, and why expose kids to the weaker work?)

But I had honestly never made that Mercutio-as-Groucho connection before, and it made the character make a lot more sense. Thanks for that.

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