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On Playing Romeo with Sean Kelley

Sean Kelley discusses the challenges of playing one of the title characters in Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo is one of the most challenging roles I have played, and the first part I will have played twice. Romeo and Juliet is often called the most produced play of all time, and I am thrilled that Pigeon Creek has brought this ensemble together to test the play again. One of the most interesting aspects of the behemoth that is Romeo and Juliet is how what happens to the title characters is determined by their harsh social environment.

Take, for instance, the first time Romeo and Juliet meet. Romeo is headed to the party to rejoice in the splendor of Rosaline’s beauty when he sees Juliet, falls in love, and ruins everything for everybody. This is exactly the course of action suggested by Benvolio a few scenes earlier, who tells Romeo to go to the party and check someone else out. Mercutio is no help, telling Romeo to ignore his cautious dreams and go to the Capulet’s party.

Kat Hermes, Juliet in our production, put it this way: “Everything else in their lives is awful, and we never get the chance to find out if they would be awful to each other.” Juliet only has one friend, the nurse, and is being set up in marriage by her distant parents. Romeo’s lot is not much better.

Sometimes the heightened language between Romeo and Juliet reveals deep syncopation in the two characters. That is what makes the play such an effective tragedy. The ill-fated pair are of marrying age and have strong interest in each other, as well as good social standing for a match. They should marry. The reasons they should not are provided by their toxic environment.

Romeo and Juliet are products of this environment, but they are hopeful characters until the end. Romeo is a little bit Benvolio, and a little bit Friar Laurence, and a degree of Mercutio but he has their characteristics turned positive and aimed away from the feud. This reflects back on the peace that could exist between the other people in Verona. If the ingredients yield products of hope like Romeo and Juliet, why can’t the feud be overcome?

I hope you come to see our production of Romeo and Juliet, where we will try our best to answer that question.

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