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‘Romeo and Juliet’ Return in Modern Adaptation

In upcoming performances at St. Lawrence University, Charles M. Pepiton, visiting assistant professor of performance and communication arts, does not simply adapt the classic Elizabethan play “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare, he transforms the audience’s preconceived notions of time.

In his adaptation, “Romeo and Juliet Redux,” Pepiton begins the play with the death of the impassioned lovers and moves in and out of time to the point that he believes is the true climatic event in the story.

“We’re playing with the nature of time,” Pepiton said. “The final scene is the first, and we move backward and forward throughout the play until we get to the climax, which is really when Juliet professes her love for Romeo.”

The play will be performed four times, beginning at 8 p.m. each night from April 2 to April 5 in the Gulick Theatre located in St. Lawrence's Noble Center. The performances are free and open to the public.

According to Pepiton, the moment Juliet consciously declares her love to Romeo is the moment when she sacrifices herself to bury the strife that has existed for generations between the Capulet and Montague families. The play also visually toys with the notions of time, as characters move from Elizabethan vestments to costumes that look like they came out of the movie “The Matrix.”

“We’re unpacking the play from our expectations and instead considering time as a Möbius strip with no clear beginning or end,” Pepiton said. “Even the costumes are a mix of Renaissance to more modern wear.”

Juliet’s dress in the beginning of the play was actually made possible by a grant garnered by Juraj Kittler, assistant professor English, who is teaching a history of Italy course and who plans to have a student wear it during an upcoming trip to Venice.

Selina French, supervisor of the costume shop, said the costumes in the play are “a little odd.”

“This is not your usual Romeo and Juliet,” she said. “We have put shoulder pads on the outside of blazers, or colored the lapels of a jacket. It’s enough that people notice but not so strong that it takes people’s focus off of the play.”

St. Lawrence students acting in the play, many of whom are not performing arts majors, had the opportunity to work closely with three members of Studio Matejka, a dance theater company from Poland that staged a nine-day residency and performed on campus in February. Pepiton worked alongside members of Studio Matejka in Poland last summer, as part of a physical theater residency in association with the Grotowski Institute.

Asked why the play continues to be staged, Pepiton answered, “Because we want to have our hearts broken again.”

“We’re still learning from this play 400 years later,” he said. “It’s amazing how moving and relevant this play remains to us today.”

View a script of the play.