The play's the thing: Views on 'Romeo and Juliet' are strong

Friday, April 28, 2006

By Dr. Kenneth L. Stilson

The Department of Theatre and Dance's production of "Romeo and Juliet" takes place in 15th century Verona. It's a classic period, but their story and the people in it transcend time and place. It focuses on the lives of these two kids from rival families who fall deeply in love -- forbidden love. That's what the script is about. Period. In the first half of the play, Shakespeare illustrates to us the worlds from which these two lovers emerge. Much of the first half of the play centers on Romeo's friends, who can only be described as rich boys with way too much time on their hands.

They are no different from the rows of frat boys who sit in their front yards on Sprigg Street in their lawn chairs with signs that say "You honk, we drink." This is what testosterone-driven boys do when they get bored. They drink. They show off. They talk about sex. They fight. They belch. They pass gas. They crash parties. In short, they are looking for these little daily machismo-driven adventures.

Now, emerging from the hatred between these two families and the lustful bawdiness of their friends, appears true love. Romeo and Juliet are different from their families and their friends. That's what makes them so special.

To only see the bawdiness is to not see the forest for the trees. It is as shortsighted as seeing classical piece of visual art as nothing more than a disgusting nude. "Romeo and Juliet" is not about the lewd behavior of a group of bored rich boys with swords. It is quite the opposite. What "Romeo and Juliet" achieve is remarkable.

Everything in the Department of Theatre and Dance's production is faithful to Shakespeare's text. Not one word has been added. Nothing in this production is gratuitous. Every decision was consciously selected to help illuminate the story and the world of the play. These are artistic decisions, and we refuse to capitulate to conservative external pressure to censor our creative decisions.

I feel sorry for those high school kids who are missing a fine production of the most classic love story ever written. Unfortunately, the administrators from East Prairie, Scott City, Bloomfield, Woodland and Chaffee can only see the trees. But, they are missing the point. Love conquers all. These enlightened educators have bowed to philistine pressure to reject something they have not seen.

This is production of "Romeo and Juliet" is certainly not rated G. However, it's not rated R either. It is a faithful, honest and (I hope) creative 21st century interpretation of Shakespeare's text. There is not one thing in this show that is as bad as what children will see on any primetime television station on any given night.

I stand by every artistic decision 100 percent. Nothing will be changed. I encourage the teachers and kids who attend these high schools, as well as the general public, to buy their own tickets and judge for themselves. I can guarantee they will enjoy a professional quality and highly entertaining evening of theater.

It's a fantastic production, and I'm very proud of our students and faculty.

By the way, the hundreds of students who saw "Romeo & Juliet" Tuesday morning cheered uproariously as the lights faded on the final scene. I heard no discontent, only excitement and praise.

Dr. Kenneth L. Stilson, director of "Romeo and Juliet," is the chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at Southeast Missouri State University.

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