Juliet is raw and intense, romantic and funny, tense and tragic, youthful and vigorous, sensual and beautiful. It will play upon your funny bone and pull on your heartstrings. It will make you think; it will make you remember, and it will make you want to dance.
What’s it about? Juliet—but Juliet from the Everyman’s perspective. We identify with her and see her from all sides—all angles. We even walk in her shoes, or boots, as the case may be. We see the four short days of her life through her eyes; we enter her mind and listen in on her secret thoughts that carry us through and outside of Shakespeare’s play. We gather enough perspective to finally relate to Juliet as she transforms from Shakespeare’s stage and four centuries of preconceptions, into a three-dimensional human being. In many ways, she is you and me. She is someone we can learn from, and sometimes she’s someone we wish we could be.
Juliet as the Everyman doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a moral here, although there could be, as there are many empowering elements and questions—universal and not— begging answers here. The modern day Everyman is someone we can relate to—the ordinary person who overcomes astronomical circumstances by being someone extraordinary, even if the results are fatal. This Juliet is brave, takes risks, is beautifully and tragically human; she’s both juvenile and wise beyond her years. She’s real and raw; she provides hope, and on top of it all, she’s one hell of a dancer.
But “she” is not just one actress. There are seven Juliets—six girls and one boy—to tell her-story. Sounds crazy, but boy does it work. San Francisco State University Creative Arts students Arisa Bega, Charlotte Gulezian, Meredith Eden Mitchell, Frannie Morrison, Megan Trout, Mai Kou Vang, and Dara Yazdani are Juliet, and in the case of preview night, assistant director Allison Combs stepped in to save the play and perform Bega’s movement portion of this very well and highly-choreographed production after Bega acquired a back injury moments before curtain. Bega still participated, sitting downstage right, speaking her part and engaging the audience in her own heroic way, the show not skipping a beat.
These students created this show, and to help them in their exploration, Bay Area and beyond acclaimed director and San Francisco State alum (’93) Mark Jackson comes back to his roots to guide this creative team of students on a journey to success.
These Juliets not only perform, they create their parts, and some elements of the show will be a little different every time you see it. It’s scripted, intermingling a good amount of Shakespeare’s text with their own dialogue, but this production is also open for development, exploration, and even translation, incorporating bits of French, Spanish, Farsi, Hmong and Latin. But don’t worry; nothing is lost along the way.
They take it upon themselves to represent other characters throughout the show, offering more insight into Juliet by way of her relationships. Juliet sees her mother as strict, abrupt, sometimes vulgar, demanding, “cigarette” in hand, and body always in the same modeled pose. Her father is also abrupt, strict and demanding, and filled with testosterone. Most importantly, neither of them listens to Juliet. In effect, Juliet sees herself as a puppet for their sport. This notion is portrayed with genius to the sound of a music box piano, as Meredith Eden Mitchell moves around the stage like a mechanical doll, turning and spinning as the words of her parents, her nurse, and the friar repeat in her head.
Perhaps the Juliet with the most pizzazz is Charlotte Gulezian, who leaps off the stage and into the audience, climbing over laps and legs, raising the level of excitement as she portrays Romeo during the first part of the balcony scene. Gulezian is edgy and packed with spunk throughout.
Dara Yazdani wows as this play’s male Juliet, playing opposite Megan Trout (this show’s standout dancer) during the balcony scene kiss and again as the lovers awake to the morning lark. Yazdani becomes a one-man show as he takes on the roles of Nurse, Benvolio, Mercutio, Tybalt, Romeo and the Prince, portraying the fateful fight that leaves Mercutio slain and Tybalt dead. In a matter of five minutes and five gallons of sweat, Yazdani gives each character distinction, and leaves us in tears as Mercutio puts a plague on both houses. The moment is epic.
Costume design initially seems simple and functional: each Juliet wears an identical blue cotton tank dress with a cotton waistband and black army boots over slouchy blue socks, but costume designer Miriam Lewis applies mad method to her design. These dresses permit the actors/dancers the ability to move with freedom, but they also act as props, with the waistbands helping to reenact Romeo and Juliet’s night together in such a way that is sensual, erotic, awkward and innocent, all achieved without dialogue. Words cannot express the beauty and emotion.
Scenic designer Hannah Murray creates a set that is both smart and lovely, with sheer curtains of fabric suspended upstage, enhanced by Clyde Sheets’ moody and brilliant lighting design. Behind the curtains are suspended window frames, figuratively hanging on Juliet’s words, “Then, window, let day in, and let life out.” A cemetery of crosses lives beyond these windows and the door that stands up center stage, and the backdrop is plastered with pages and pages torn from books—likely versions and translations of Juliet’s story with her Romeo. Her-story.
Matt Stines’ sound design plays with tones and moods, enhancing Juliet’s rushes of emotion and her internal hum of introspection. The sound of ocean tides rush in and over the stage and over Juliet’s boundless love and story. Music plays a big part in this show, as does movement, whether subtle, repetitive, convulsive, violent, delicate, graceful or powerful, everything is rhythmic. Everything follows a beat—a heartbeat, perhaps—no matter how chaotic or serene.
There’s a dance club scene that will figuratively lift you from your chair and into its midst. You’ll hear Connie Stevens sing her 1960 hit single “Sixteen Reasons” as Juliet sees her Romeo for the first time. “All My Little Worlds” (1999) by The Magnetic Fields serves as the prelude to Juliet’s death, the choreography in this scene embracing the antitheses of Juliet’s story: controlled chaos, vulgar beauty, violent grace. Again, Megan Trout is a joy to watch dance.
But oh…. the song that remains an earwag in my brain is “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Scottish pop band, The Proclaimers (1988). This song and its beat weaves its way in and out of this show and instills an element of joy every time you realize it has weaved its way back into your brain, days later.
There’s so much to see, hear, and experience. So much to love.
Juliet is a show to be seen. It’s a show that should travel. Walk 500 miles, and then walk 500 more. My only suggestion to Jackson and his team: Find a space that permits dancing. Insert an Intermission forty-five minutes in, just after the balcony scene. Play “500 Miles” just as you do, but let us get up and dance with you. Let us get up and celebrate the life and story of Juliet.
Juliet runs March 12–14 and 18-21, 2010 at the Little Theatre, Creative Arts Building, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Ave., San Francisco, CA 94132. Information can be found at http://creativearts.sfsu.edu/.