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Romeo & Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending (Fringe Festival 2011)

by Stephen Tortora-Lee on August 21, 2011

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Photo by Chelsie Lloyd of Juliet (Kyra Corradin), Romeo (James Waters), and Rosaline (Katie Jeffries)

Just about everyone in Western culture has read or seen a rendition of Romeo and Juliet, and one thing that resonates most about this Shakespearean classic is the unfairness of the couple’s tragic ending.  But what if you could jump in at critical times and nudge the characters into making different decisions?  Would that be enough to uncross the star-crossedness of these famous lovers?  Would it at least be enough to pull one of them out of the the jaws of ironic death?  Or would all that meddling mess up the whole point of the story?

Romeo & Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending attempts to explore that question.

Here, like in many improv shows, there is a polling of the crowd to see what they think should happen.  This is explained in soliloquy by Romeo (played by James Waters) where he sees us as advisers, spirits, or coconspirators.  The script is enlivened with a few modernisms, as well as new scenes that happen when there is a deviation from the original plot, yet it all stays fairly true to a Shakepearean style of dialogue.  It’s a lot of fun to be the hand of fate and see what the rest of the audience votes (via raised hands) and very entertaining to see how the story divergences made every one of the different possible stories by Ann and Shawn Fraistat as delightful as the one I saw.  I’m going to give a quick synopsis  of the plot from the perspective of the choices our audience made.  Since the nights are always different, there’s probably little chance that your show will be the same.

Photo by Khelsie Kerl of Mercutio (Jayme Bell), Benvolio (Rob Mueller), and Romeo (James Waters)

We start with Mercutio (played by Jayme Bell) convincing his buddies Benvolio (played by Rob Mueller) and Romeo Montague to crash the Capulet  party just after Romeo finished writing love poems to Rosaline (played by Katie Jeffries) who does not return his affection.

The first choice was whether Romeo should stay in love with Rosaline or whether he should pursue this new unknown interest who happens to be Juliet (played by Kyra Corradin).  Our audience chose for Romeo to still fall in love with Juliet, but were willing to compromise Romeo’s morals  by allowing him to answer Tibalt’s (Matthew Sparcino) challenge instead of saying he could not fight because of his new marriage to Juliet.  Benvolio jumps into the fray to stop Romeo from fighting  and the struggle accidentally causes Tibalt to be killed by Romeo.

When the Prince comes around wondering who killed Tibalt, Mercutio, in this version now alive and still just as much of a charming trixter as he was earlier in the play, is able to cover up Romeo’s involvement in the fight (a certain horned African mammal was framed instead).

The audience was then able to give its input one last time.  Should Romeo allow the lie that Mercutio told to stand and not accept blame for the murder (accidental or not) of Tibalt?  Or just lie? The audience chose for Romeo to lie and the plot completely jumped the tracks starting with the Friar (played by Katie Jeffries) telling the young couple to both go to Mantua to lay low while the families were reconciled instead of just Romeo (who no longer had a death sentence waiting for him).

Then things jump back toward familiar territory after Benvolio becomes infatuated with Juliet. He seduces her with charm and as a means to invalidate her marriage with Romeo tries to consummate with her before Romeo can.  Eventually the ending of the tale of woe of Juliet and Benvolio ends with both of the new star-crossed lovers dying and Romeo living to love another day.

Mandy Yu who devised the clever props and scenery, especially fun was the mystery chest of anything that could possibly be needed that is used at many junctures in the show.  Lex Davis was fight choreographer for the scenes in our version of the play.  The fights were done humorously as well as excitingly.  Jason Aufdem-Brinke set the mood with lighting that changed our focus just when it was needed to.  And finally, thank you Chelsie Kerl for the great  costumes, that were stylish and a good representation of Verona of that day as well color coordinated by Family so we could know who was related to who.

Photo of Tybalt (Matthew Sparacino) and Nurse (Jayme Bell)

Seven other endings await the plot outlined above (with great comedy interwoven throughout regardless).  Last show is  Friday the 26th if you’ld like t catch it.  Oh, and if you see another ending please feel free to comment on this post  and tell us all about how your ending worked out.


Romeo & Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending

Writer: Ann and Shawn Fraistat (and William Shakespeare)
Director: Ann Fraistat
1h 30m
VENUE #1: Teatro SEA
Fri 26 @ 4:15

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