Michaila Cornwell

Two boys curl up under a tree, one reading Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” to the other in Latin, in what can only be described as the most quintessentially Yale version of flirting. And so the curtain rises to reveal a scene from “Tybalt and Mercutio Are Dead,” a play written by Lulu Klebanoff ’20 and staged in the Hopper Cabaret.

In Klebanoff’s reimagining of “Romeo and Juliet,” the famous tragic couple takes a backseat to Tybalt and Mercutio, whose “forbidden offstage romance” is brought into the limelight. The title of the play is a nod to Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” a tragicomedy based on the exploits of two minor characters in “Hamlet.”

“You can’t tell the full forbidden love story with straight people,” Klebanoff said. “‘Romeo and Juliet’ doesn’t access everything that forbidden love can.”

Directed by Lola Hourihane ’20, the 75-minute show ran for four performances from April 19–21. In her writer’s note, Klebanoff explains that her play is about love that is “marginalized, forbidden, and forced offstage.” She describes her play as a work about masculinity, queerness and “silenced experiences made speakable.”

Klebanoff drew inspiration for the play from her involvement in a production of “Romeo and Juliet” last spring.

“During the Tybalt and Mercutio fight scene, I wondered: Why are they fighting each other?” Klebanoff told the News. “What is their investment in this? And then I realized, they’re in love.”

Klebanoff wrote the play over the summer before getting Hourihane on board as director. The five-person cast stars Charlie Foster ’21 as Mercutio and Jake Moses ’21 as Tybalt. The supporting cast includes Capulet and Romeo, both played by Matthew Paige ’20, and Benvolio and Juliet, both played by Sarah Saltzman ’21. Klebanoff makes an appearance as the Friar.

The set, designed by Paige Davis ’21, is simple but elegant, with paper trees lining the stage. The production team made a smart decision in its casting: Paige and Saltzman both play two characters, one on each side of the strife, emphasizing how baseless their families’ dispute is.

The play features several carefully choreographed fight scenes, in each of which the intensity of the duel reflects the tone of the scene. But most of the characters’ sparring is verbal rather than physical. In a stream of snappy one-liners, Tybalt and Mercutio dart between Shakespearean dialogue and modern language faster than their blades can slash through the air. In an instant, the lovers pivot from dissecting mythology to expressing romantic frustration through modern sentiments, complaining that things are “moving too fast.”

“I thought the writing was spectacular,” said Charlie Hawkings ’21. “It portrayed two men in a very vulnerable position, which you don’t get to see often.”

Klebanoff’s writing subverts our expectations of Shakespeare, at times paying homage to his work and at others, poking fun at it. Her humorous take pairs a respect for his work with a desire to unearth something new. Audiences may recognize familiar lines from Mercutio’s famous “Queen Mab” speech lifted directly from the Bard. At the same time, Mercutio mocks the tragic couple Pyramus and Thisbe, pointing out that they only died because of “poorly timed entrances and exits” — a not so subtle reference to “Romeo and Juliet.”

In another instance, Tybalt asks himself if he is “supposed to spout a sonnet.” Without missing a beat, Mercutio shrugs and responds that “meter is performative.”

Once protagonists in their own story, Romeo and Juliet make few appearances in the play with their voices spilling in from offstage and their wedding scene playing out on stage concurrently with a tragic scene between Tybalt and Mercutio.

“I enjoyed seeing the parallels with the actual ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” said Trustin Henderson ’21. “The acting was incredible. I thought that they did a great job portraying issues of acceptance and adolescent love.”

The cast makes full use of Klebanoff’s witticisms and moments of introspection. Foster’s Mercutio, whose eyebrows emote with even more intensity than his voice, plays the character with all of his playful cheekiness, as well as the inner pain that his joviality masks.

The biggest departure from Shakespeare’s original characters lies in Moses’ Tybalt, who is more serious and introspective than his quick-tempered counterpart in “Romeo and Juliet.”

“The tragedy of forbidden love isn’t dying,” Moses’ Tybalt says gravely. “It’s living without.”

At the end of “Tybalt and Mercutio Are Dead,” two boys curl up under a tree. One is clutching at a stab wound that will never come to heal, and the other is sobbing over his dying body.

Klebanoff’s play is the story of how and why the characters arrived there.

Sophia Nam | sophia.nam@yale.edu