April 26/27th, 2002 at 8 PM
May 3/4, 2002 at 8 PM
Laurel High Auditiorium

May 10/11, 2002 at 8 PM
May 12, 2002 at 2 PM
Greenbelt Arts Center

(Art by Peter Eichman)

From their first awkward encounter in Capulet's garden to their anguished suicides, Romeo and Juliet share a purity, a sanctity of love incomprehensible to the earthy, worldly, cynical figures around them. The intensity of that love invests them both with a radiant inner life, a life and language of poets, inviolable by the accidents, missed chances and twists of malign fate that lead to their mutual destruction.

Juliet is willing to abandon her fears and embrace a horrifying simulacrum of death in order to keep her love for her husband inviolate. Both of them are willing to dare damnation for their love, joining each other in a suicide which loses them any hope of salvation according to their Catholic faith. And in that death, the final, unquestioned choice, their love remains constant and unstained.

The deaths of the lovers are made infinitely more wrenching by the fact that it could so easily have ended happily for them and their families. Romeo and Juliet begins as a comedy, with many of a comedy's classic elements: two divided lovers, aided in their schemes by friends and comic figures, with an older authority figure, a senex iratus, opposing the lovers. If this sounds like Plautus or Terence to anyone, it should. But fate and the passions of youth interpose themselves in the sudden, violent killings of Mercutio and Tybalt; the laughter and lightness sours in the mouth, the comedy turns to tragedy.

The conflict between the Montagues and Capulets is secondary to the deeper and more destructive division between the generations, a theme Shakespeare takes up again in Lear. Communication between the parents and their children is ineffective or nonexistent, and in the parental substitutes of Friar Laurence and the Nurse, Romeo and Juliet receive guidance that is occasionally careless, frequently manipulative and never entirely without self-interest. Laurence and the Nurse are among the more sympathetic and well-intentioned characters in the play, but they lead their charges badly and with disastrous results. The fundamental powerlessness of the younger generation fuels the tragedy. The younger generation is brilliant, violent, reckless and cursed, dueling and dying on the turn of a word. The older generation has all the power, and every member of it has an agenda to pursue. Romeo and Juliet are alternately compelled and manipulated by parents and authority figures into a shrinking and increasingly destructive series of choices. In the end, their only choice, their only freedom, is death.

In our version, two other couples act as a foil for the central bond of Romeo and Juliet. Capulet has a relationship with her young nephew, Tybalt, that's largely steeped in her search for power and control and his tendency towards self-immolation. And the affectionate, teasing, blatantly carnal relationship of Benvolio and Mercutio provides an earthy, realist's counterpoint to the unearthly beautiful poetic fancies of Romeo and Juliet. All three romances end in crossed stars and untimely death, the foils foreshadowing the culmination of the tragedy.

Benvolio, the only surviving member of the younger generation, frames the play; these shadows are his reminiscences as he lives day to day in the aftermath, trying to resurrect the pieces of a broken world. He makes enormous sacrifices in the name of his love for Romeo, allowing Romeo to reclaim his honor by avenging Mercutio's death, and accepting and condoning Romeo's final choice of suicide. In a sense, if Benvolio had been more selfish, Romeo and Juliet might have had a chance to end happily. As it is, their tragedy brings with it a glooming peace, and their stainless love writes a final, glorious lesson on Verona's dark walls.

Romeo & Juliet is the perfect choice of a play for this particular troupe. It burns brilliantly with the passions and frustrations of youth, and the Rude Mechanicals are artistic rebels at heart. And we're drawing an audience of like-minded rebels, sophisticated and savvy. We're a forum for challenging ideas, for lovers of Shakespeare, for method workshops, for love of the craft, for theater that truly "holds the mirror up to nature."

My only love sprung from my only hate. - Juliet