A letter from Michael Kahn about ROMEO & JULIET
In my opinion, Romeo & Juliet is an ideal Shakespeare play for a young director to work on, for new audiences to discover and for familiar ones to reconsider. There is always more to discover in this play—scenes that have been forgotten, lines that have been cut—beyond the famous phrases. The play seems so familiar to us as high school homework that it can be surprising to see it onstage, the way it was meant to be experienced. We are reminded once more of Shakespeare’s expert stagecraft, of how immaculately he constructed this play’s plot as well as its poetry.
Without giving anything away, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you on the play, and a few elements unique to this production:
- Our own production history at STC illustrates how Romeo & Juliet can change depending on the director and approach. As some of our most faithful audience members may remember, it was the very first show that I directed for the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger, 30 years ago. The production was a great success, and I was even more proud that we were able to begin a national conversation about teenage suicide. In 1994, RSC veteran Barry Kyle’s Rothko-like set illuminated the play’s existential themes, whereas Rachel Kavanaugh’s minimalist approach in 2002 placed emphasis upon the play’s heightened passions. More recently, in 2008, former STC Associate Artistic Director David Muse (who returns this season with his production of King Charles III), directed an all-male production of the play in the Harman, expanding our own notions of how to approach the play in the first all-male production in STC’s history.
- When our current Associate Artistic Director Alan Paul spoke to me about his own vision for Romeo & Juliet, I was immediately struck by his enthusiasm for tackling Shakespeare’s text with vigor, and also for bringing it energetically to life. Alan has been known over the past few years at this company for his direction of musicals, which have been both critical successes and box office hits, and I was eager for him to apply what he’s learned to one of Shakespeare’s plays.
- Alan’s vision for the play is unlike those we have featured previously. He is contemporizing the play with modern dress, but with an avid faithfulness to Shakespeare’s text. Perhaps more specifically, Alan is striving to reconnect us to Shakespeare’s topicality. Among other things, this is a play about a society in a state of crisis, where passions and public killings run hotter than ever in the dog days of summer, where a culture of runaway opulence and competitive excess among the wealthiest families does little to resolve the long-festering problems of society. Alan is also interested in investigating the Capulet household in a way I don’t think we’ve shown before. Shakespeare invented so many things in our drama, that it’s easy to forget how keenly interested he was in families, in the bonds that unite them and can also tear them apart.
- As with his musicals, Alan has assembled a stellar creative team of talent both onstage and behind the scenes for his Romeo & Juliet. Returning to STC is Andrew Veenstra as Romeo, after playing Orlando in 2014’s As You Like It and Valentine in 2011’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona. He’s joined by Ayana Workman as Juliet, who recently played the role at the Public Theater’s Shakespeare Lab. Other familiar faces to STC include Jeffrey Carlson, Gregory Wooddell, Emily Townley, and many others.
I could not be more proud to share this production with you. We look forward to seeing you in our theatres again soon.
Shakespeare Theatre Company