People are asking Stephanie Newman: Why put on a Shakespeare play in Roseburg?
That’s easy, she said. “Because he’s the best.”
So why, then, go with “Romeo and Juliet,” which everyone read in ninth grade?
“It’s the best of Shakespeare,” said Newman, head of Umpqua Community College’s theater studies program. “It’s got comedy, tragedy, romance, adventure, family, an ancient rivalry — everything. Shakespeare is the core. If you can do it, you can do anything.”
William Shakespeare’s complex, character-driven, love-story-to-end-all love stories is coming to UCC’s Centerstage Theatre. Newman said she’s heard it’ll be the first time the college puts on a Shakespeare play.
It opens a two-week run Friday night with a one-off Valentine’s dinner. Culinary students will provide a meal at UCC’s Lang Center and winemaking students will pour wine. But one doesn’t have to buy the lovers’ package to watch the show.
At the first dress rehearsal, actors bumped into the set and appealed for help with frustrated calls of “Line!” into the darkness.
Perfect, Newman said.
“I really trust my process and I think we’re right where we need to be,” she said. “There needs to be this awkward first night.”
She seemed serene as cast and crew scrambled during an act break. She was happy to see her vision on full display.
“This is exactly what I dreamed up,” she said.
Those turned off by premature exposure to Shakespeare should know he’s lengths more accessible with the help of good acting. And here, there is that.
Juliet is played by Abby Prawitz, 15. She has had roles in other local plays but nothing this substantial. Her Juliet is stubborn and adventurous, alert and, despite her precocity, sometimes the only sane-seeming person in the play. She lives a full life over five acts.
Romeo is Jacob Cole, who recently graduated early from Glide High School. Portraying the idealistic protagonist was a big goal of his. He said he always seems to get cast as a villain or a priest.
“I told myself I’d be a leading man before I graduated,” said Cole, 17.
Shakespeare wrote Juliet as 13 and Romeo probably between 16 and 18 (it’s never stated). Newman could have gone with older, more experienced actors for her two leads, but she insisted on youth, it being surprisingly difficult to get an adult to act like a teenager.
“Their experience is just so different,” Newman said.
However, Cole and Prawitz sometimes had to be reminded they are in hot, steamy love with each other.
“We worked on that titillating feeling of love,” Newman said. “They kind of got comfortable in rehearsal.”
The cast of 20 includes a few interesting cases.
Roseburg attorney Harry Gandy is put-upon Friar Lawrence, arguably the play’s moral center. His courtroom voice and world-weary demeanor work well with this role.
As feisty, fiery Mercutio, Roseburg High School math teacher Josh Carlton lights the stage in all directions. Carlton has performed at the college in summer Oregon Musical Theatre Festival shows, but never in a UCC production. He said he auditioned for this one for two reasons: the chance to act in a Shakespeare play in Roseburg, and the chance to work with Newman, who impressed him with the last UCC production, her first, William Inge’s “Bus Stop.”
Warm-hearted Benvolio is Amanda McNulty, stretching her chops here, tromping around indelicately with a shaggy soul patch. McNulty recently founded a UCC drama club. It should soon start selling concessions at UCC performances.
She also helped cast this show, somewhat. While putting up “Bus Stop” posters around campus, McNulty noticed a stranger with a classic Elizabethan look, and suggested he audition for “Romeo and Juliet.”
Nicholas Intersimone, 31, landed the key role of hot-headed Tybalt, hounder of Romeo, participant in three sword fights. Intersimone is a six-year Navy veteran and qualified sharpshooter. He’s also, as McNulty learned, a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” enthusiast eager to take on a new challenge.
The set at Centerstage is a spare space anchored by three pillared wagons. They’re wheeled around at scene changes to form different backdrops. Four crew members who rearrange the structures are even dressed in Elizabethan garb so as to not take the audience out of fair Verona.
At stage left is a new feature to the Centerstage Theatre: a fully functioning, fire-marshal-approved balcony. Newman said it was built to just the height at which Prawitz and Cole’s fingers barely touch.
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at email@example.com.