A crowd of 200 people packed into Iseman Theater on Saturday night to watch the Yale School of Drama’s striking rendition of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Emma Weinstein, the 2019 Cullman Scholar in the Yale School of Drama’s Directing Program, directed the production, which challenges the time-honored conventions of a Shakespearean play. The play is set in an all-girls high school, features a cast sporting plaid Catholic-school-girl skirts, knee-high socks and a script studded with choreographed musical numbers, as well as a plethora of stunningly overt sexual innuendos.
“[It was a] brave way to tell the tale, but [it] got to the heart of the story we’re all so familiar with,” said Bill Reynolds, a former Yale School of Drama faculty member.
With a cast of seven Yale School of Drama students and 14 roles, many of the actresses played multiple parts. Despite playing different characters throughout the play, the actresses’ distinct performances allowed no room for audience misinterpretation. Danielle Chaves passionately executed a smokey-eyed and tattooed Mercutio, and also threw on a jacket to transform into an assertive and powerful Lord Capulet.
Despite the ostensibly millennial-oriented and potentially controversial interpretation of “Romeo and Juliet,” the audience was mostly comprised of older performance goers. Reynolds, who sat front row and center with his wife, Sharon, commended the actresses for their “ability to make subtle changes in their voice and body movement.” Sharon Reynolds said she was “fully prepared” to dislike the show, but in the end enjoyed the performance and found the message powerful in revealing the “impetuousness of love.”
Live music prompted the brief set changes and enhanced the energy of the performance. Anna Gumberg ’21, who played the guitar during the play, said she did not begin working with the actors until last Thursday.
The musical numbers consisted of a variety of excerpts from songs ranging from Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” to a mashup of “Somewhere” from West Side Story and “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac, arranged by Sofía Campoamor ’19. The musical choices both created transitions between scenes and emphasized the anachronistic location of the play in an all-girls school, highlighted by scenes at a school dance and basketball practice in the original plot.
Drama student Stella Baker delivered a hauntingly beautiful and emotional performance of Juliet, emphasizing the complexities and nuances of the Shakespearean character. And although the two-hour production lacked an intermission, each scene was as gripping and fresh as the first. Despite the size of Iseman Theater, the actresses used the small space to their benefit. The cast treated the entire room as their stage: They paced up and down the theater aisles and ran through the upper-level rafters that circled the room, fully engulfing the audience in the action of the play. Additionally, the well-balanced and captivating portrayals of each character, and the subtle and quick set changes, kept audience members on their toes throughout the performance.
The intimate set consisted of various configurations of four oblong benches and a disco ball, allowing the audience to home in on the actresses’ skills without the extravagance of a large-scale production. In the last scene, cast members scattered miscellaneous items from their backpacks around the slain Romeo and Juliet while spray painting their names on the ground, creating a pseudo-shrine.
“Romeo and Juliet” was part of the Yale School of Drama’s “Studio Series.
Allison Park | email@example.com