College Players presents a nontraditional take on Shakespeare

By Rebecca Madsen

Sky Garcilasodelavega (left), who plays Romeo, and Ashlyn Wiebe (right), who plays Juliet, share a kiss. COURTESY OF COLLEGE PLAYERS

“Two households both alike in dignity

In fair Verona where we lay our scene…”

While “Romeo and Juliet” is a story most are familiar with, the College Players are bringing the Shakespearian tragedy to USF in a unique way on Dec. 8 and 9. In this fresh take on a beloved classic, student director Sarah Medley has adapted the original script; cutting the run time and cast of characters in half, modernizing it slightly, and, most notably, casting a woman as Romeo — effectively turning the love story into an LGBTQ+ one.

From the editing of the script to the choreography of the fight scenes, everything in this production has been executed by a group of just a couple dozen dedicated and enthusiastic students.

This adaptation focuses less on the feud between the families and more on the dynamic relationships that are reinterpreted in light of this change in gender. As assistant director Nrithya Anukonda explained, “It’s still the story of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ but now that they’re both women, there are moments that are not just about the feuding, but about the individuals themselves. It also gives us the ability to put homophobia in the subtext.” 

Beyond the two titular characters, the play draws new relationships between secondary characters. Eden Nobile, who plays Benvolio, noted that, “This is a completely different take on the cast of characters; it’s a new blend of people with complex character dynamics. If you look closely at it, there’s a love pentagon that’s hella intense.”

The production is a passion project of Medley’s, who was inspired by her own experience of reading “Romeo and Juliet” in high school and feeling like she couldn’t truly relate to either of the title characters. Before production began, Medley edited down the script and sent it in for approval to the College Players, along with her vision for the adaptation. She said she wanted the show to be something modern viewers could relate to. While she didn’t tamper with the Shakespearean vernacular, this version takes place in a more modern setting, with a time period that is left ambiguous so it can be viewed, as Medley put it, “Verona yesterday or tomorrow.”

I had the privilege of seeing a full rehearsal of the play and can say that it truly is a passion project. The cast also shares Medley’s passion and vision for the play, showing this in their enthusiasm both on and off the stage. In rehearsals, each scene is repeatedly practiced as the actors and director alike work to perfect the stage direction and delivery, with everyone striving to produce a piece they can be proud of. Anukonda said, “It’s 110% personal. All the actors are really into what they’re doing and it’s truly beautiful to see.” 

With only about six weeks of rehearsals, the cast and crew had very limited time to put the show together. Yet, as Nobile stated, “It’s been going surprisingly well, considering how much of a limited time we’ve had. I think that just goes to show how talented everyone is, that even though it’s going really quickly, everyone has been giving 100% since day one.”

According to the cast, the story goes beyond its well-known romance and tragedy elements by incorporating action and comedy throughout. The choreographers had fun with developing the many fight scenes into dramatic knife fights on stage, and actors also enjoyed the witty humor of the piece, creating a play that’s as entertaining to act in as it is to watch. 

“There’s a reason this has been Shakespeare’s most famous piece,” Medley said. “‘Romeo and Juliet’ has stood out for its ability to mix both the tragedy and comedy genres.”

For anyone looking to support College Players while enjoying a unique take on this timeless classic, you can catch the final production on Dec. 8 and 9 at 8 p.m. in USF’s Studio Theater. The abridged version runs at a quick two hours, and entry is free for all.

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