WRITTEN BY GINNY SPELLMAN, STAFF REPORTER
How do you retell one of the most poignant love stories ever written?
A modern interpretation of William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet” must find a way to cut through the other adaptations.
It must be fresh, current and relevant.
Butler University’s theatre department will present its own original production of “Romeo and Juliet” next month, directed by English actor and visiting international theatre artist Tim Hardy.
Unlike other popular versions of the play, Hardy has decided to set the story in the 1920s.
With the play more modernized, Hardy said he hopes the love story will be more relevant to the audience.
Hardy said when Shakespeare is presented traditionally, modern audiences tend to dismiss it because the language and costumes appear outdated.
“But if they look a little bit like we do today—and in the 1920s, they sure do (dress like we do),” Hardy said, “then you relate to it more.”
While Hardy’s goal is to gain the audience’s attention by being more relevant, he said he does not believe Shakespeare’s work will be discredited by updating the time period of the play.
“I read every line again and again to see if anything contradicts (the time period),” Hardy said, “and there is nothing in the play that says it can’t be 1920s.”
Hardy credits his cast for being able to fully realize his vision of the classic love story.
“The Butler students roll up their sleeves and give you everything,” Hardy said. “On the first day, I spoke for two hours—as you do as a director—and explained my concept.
“(The theatre students) absolutely bought into my view of the play, which is very violent and passionate.”
Megan Medley, a senior theatre major, plays the role of Juliet alongside sophomore Ian Jackson, who plays Romeo. With Hardy’s adaption of the play set in the 1920s, Medley said she has been able to revolutionize her character.
“Shakespeare gives you these words, and whatever the words bring out of you is the character that comes out,” Medley said. “What’s happening with my Juliet is she’s a little bit more rough and not as girly. She still wears dresses, but she’s very emotional, and she gets angry.”
Hardy’s adaptation will be competing with a new film version that was released Friday as well as two earlier versions that are still popular today.
In 1968, Franco Zeffirelli directed a traditional version of the love story, set in Verona, Italy. The film won two Academy Awards that year and is still considered to be a classic adaptation of the play.
Baz Luhrmann took an entirely different approach in his 1996 version “Romeo + Juliet.” He set the story in present-day California but retained the original text.
“The Zeffirelli version is a very romantic view of the play,” said William Walsh, English professor and Shakespeare expert.
“The Luhrmann one is edgy and dramatizes the violence very effectively, but you lose some of the romance.”
Though these two earlier movies are very different, Rebecca Ries, coordinator of the First-Year Seminar program, said she believes both have a lot to offer.
She also said she would definitely go see the new film.
“As far as my attitude towards the films, I’m always really eager,” she said.
“I know there have been a lot of adaptations of Shakespeare, and, usually, I’m game to watch them. And I’m usually disappointed, but I’m game.”
Walsh said he is not even willing to spend his money to go see the new movie, directed by Carlo Carlei and in theatres now, because it does away with the original text. Ries, however, said she thinks it can be a success if the film is done right.
Hardy said, as a British citizen, he could not accept “Romeo and Juliet” without the passion and music of the original language.
“If you’re going to do ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ nobody could write it a quarter as well as (Shakespeare) wrote it,” Hardy said.
“If you’re going to do Shakespeare, do Shakespeare.”
Both Walsh and Ries said they are enthusiastic about seeing Tim Hardy’s adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Ries said she is a little apprehensive of the time period Hardy chose.
“For Tim Hardy’s production, I don’t have a read on what’s going to happen,” Ries said.
“I’ll be curious to see why we’re going in the 1920s and not some other (time period) because I don’t know what the argument is for why he’s chosen that particular time period.”
Butler’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” will be held at the Schrott Center Nov. 13-17.
“Even if two or three people will walk away saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t know Shakespeare could be like that,’ or, ‘Wow, I really felt something,’ that’s the point,” Medley said.