Shakespeare’s epic tragic love story “Romeo and Juliet” gets a Mexican twist, starting today, as Merced Shakespearefest opens its 13th season at the Art Kamangar Center at the Merced Theatre.
“Every production of Shakespeare is unique, because the actors all bring their own biases and interpretations to the characters, as does every director,” actress Julie Ransom said. “In addition, Shakespeare is written so universally, about human nature and its conflicts and struggles and triumphs, that it does not limit itself to one specific time or setting. Therefore, we are moving Verona to California at the turn of the 20th century, early California, with a very heavy Mexican influence.”
The show has been given the feel of Mexico and early California with guitar music by Eric Bocks and dances by Sol Del Valle to create a rich experience for the audience.
The play, directed by Heike Hambley, features more than 25 performers from Merced and elsewhere in the Central Valley.
“I love that Heike has stretched the casting to include all different ages and types of people and has changed the gender of some of the roles as well,” actress Charlene West said. “I think the addition of the Latino theme plays well with the passion of this play, and having professional dancers will be interesting for our audiences.”
Although the story of Juliet and Romeo is familiar to most people, Ransom believes that it is a tragedy to limit oneself to a mere reading of the story.
“To read Shakespeare is a travesty,” Ransom said. “It must be chewed and swallowed, it must be experienced! The Bard would be rolling in his grave knowing we force children to read, rather than watch, his pieces. Everyone should watch Shakespeare. It makes them think and ponder, weep and wonder, laugh and cry. All in the span of 90 minutes!”
Actor Shawn Overton believes there’s so much more to the story than a great tragic love story.
“The source of the tragedy isn’t Romeo and Juliet’s love,” he said. “It’s the feud between the families, and that is a common theme running throughout the show. It’s really a story about two men who refuse to let go of their hate for each other, resulting in tragedy for their families and the deaths of their children. I think there’s an important lesson there.”
As the parent of a 16-year-old, Ransom has found the messages of “Romeo and Juliet” to be especially poignant.
“It is a lesson to tread carefully but watchfully, and to love your child, and accept the decisions they make, for better or worse, because, especially in matters of the heart, those decisions cannot be made for them,” Ransom said.
“So keeping a balance between love and discipline and control is a very thin wire that good parents find themselves walking each day, hopefully steeped in prayer, so they do not also have a tale of much woe, ‘this of Juliet and her Romeo.’ ”
The cast includes Rachel Rodrigues (Juliet), James McIntyre (Romeo), Linda Hammer-Brown (Prince of Verona), Greg Ruelas (Mercutio), Travis Blansit (Paris), Pete Magazinovic (Montague), Tori Lee Scoles (Lady Montague), TaNayiah Bryels (Benvolia), Glenn Bourgeois (Balthasar), David Hambley (Capulet), Charlene West (Lady Capulet), Jerardo Larios (Tybalt), Julie Ransom (Juliet’s Nurse), Rick Morrison (Old Capulet), Joshua Brightman (Peter), Eduardo Cueras (Sampson), Shawn Overton (Friar Laurence), Dave Brown (Friar John), Karen Damme (Apothecary) and Yasmin Curiel-Ruth (Rosaline).
The fighters are played by Bethany Blondin, James Dominguez, Haley Paulissian, Jeshamon Volkerts, Casey Barnes and Emily Wilson. The children of Verona are played by Edlyn Morrow and Elizabeth Ekhause.
Last year Merced Shakespearefest performed “Hamlet” in February and “As You Like It” in September, in Applegate Park.
Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 students. Tickets can be purchased online at www.mercedtheatre.org, or by calling (209) 381-0500, or visiting the box office. For more information call (209) 723-3265 or visit www.mercedshakespearefest.org