by James Garcia Jr.
This fall’s theatre production at Kingsburg High School is the William Shakespeare classic, Romeo & Juliet. The classic tragedy is the story of two young lovers whose deaths end up uniting their feuding families. Whether this version of the tale leans closer to Director Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film than the Famous Bard’s original, we will have to wait for the curtain to rise.
The play is directed by Lissa Engstrom, who is the Founder and Artistic Director of E & e Performing Arts Center in Kingsburg, and has appeared many times in the pages of Kings River Life Magazine. I asked her how this version of the play might differ from any version that the audience might be accustomed to. “I cut down the script, but the language is the same,” said Engstrom. “It is set in a contemporary feel, but has a mix of classic and contemporary music and costumes.”
She would like her audience to see this production as more than a battle of parents and their teenagers. “I feel it is about a war over money and power,” said Engstrom. “The Montagues are the old money and the Capulets are the up and coming new money. Romeo and Juliet want to be free from this war between the families, and just want someone to connect with. They want someone who understands what they are going through.”
Assisting Engstrom with bringing Romeo & Juliet to the local stage is Laura Vallenari, a veteran director of twenty-two KHS Theatre productions. Miss V., as she is affectionately called by her students, is an 11th grade American Literature and 12th grade Advanced Placement and Composition instructor at Kingsburg High School. She also serves as Technical Director for E & e.
“I’m an Assistant Director for this go around,” said Vallenari. “I helped with the set and lighting. This version of Romeo and Juliet is a bit shorter but still maintains the language and story. You won’t see any actors in tights or Elizabethan costumes. Costumes will definitely be more modern than that. I have been impressed with the way that Lissa is able to pair contemporary music with different scenes in the play. It really adds a lot to the telling of the story.”
Jacob Pasalakis, fresh off of his turn as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz this past May, is playing the lead. “I’m playing Romeo, a character that wears his heart on his sleeve and doesn’t care what others think,” said Pasalakis. “I thought trying a role so emotionally based and artistic would allow me a chance to not only try something new, but show this town how amazing the arts are, and how important they are to all of us. I really love the theatre and playing such a historic role just makes me love it even more. I know this show will be great and I hope everyone enjoys it!”
Jasmine Mahfoud completes the famous couple. “I’m playing Juliet Capulet, the only daughter of Lord Capulet and Lady Capulet,” said Mahfoud. “I decided to try out for this play because I love so many things about theater. I get to be dramatic, wear costumes, and bond with my classmates doing something we all enjoy. Even though this is such a well known story, we’ve added our own flavor to it that should keep the audience well entertained!”
Mary Hosler, a senior at KHS this year, is playing many roles in the production. “I play Benvolio, the Apothecary, and the Narrator,” said Hosler. “I joined this production because this play is my all-time favorite. The way Romeo and Juliet portray their love is very moving, and the fact that peace can come through their death is very fulfilling. This modern twist that Mrs. Engstrom is taking on it is very unique and interesting, and I am very excited to see how it applies on show day.”
If the thought of updating this classic play in any way gives you cause for concern, Riley Garcia, who is playing Friar Lawrence and Tybalt, offers the following explanation to set that question to rest. “The modern changes in the play do not distract from the core of the story. The music, dancing and costumes simply add a new and interesting flavor to the legendary story.”
One would think that taking on this project might be a bit much considering that Lissa not only runs E & e, but is also a full-time teacher at Rafer Johnson Junior High School, where she teaches Drama and English. “It’s the question that I ask myself every day!” Engstrom answered with a laugh. “No, I have always wanted to do it and am giving the regular directors a break. It’s been a blast and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else. We have an amazing cast.”
You can see Romeo & Juliet at the KHS Little Theater building located at 1900 18th Avenue in Kingsburg. The play will run for four days, beginning Tuesday, November 15 with the final curtain coming down Friday, November 18. The performances begin at 7 p.m. with doors opening thirty minutes before the shows. The tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.
Watch for another Local Live here next Wednesday evening at 7 p.m.