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Preview of New Muses Theatre's Romeo and Juliet

Jenna McRill as Juliet and Niclas Olson as Romeo in rehearsal. Photo credit: Kelsey Harrison

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I can't help but wonder why in the world any actor or any director or producer would want to do Romeo and Juliet when it's already been done so many times in so many ways. Niclas Olson said, "I think a lot of it has to do with how much content is stuffed into the play. As a producer, I tend to look for plays where every character has a real arc and vital role in the story. And each of the nine actors in our adaptation has that opportunity. But there are other producers who can look at the script and see a great opportunity for big fight scenes. Or there's, obviously, a phenomenal love story. And if we talk about great roles for women - something I placed high on my priority list this season - Juliet, the Nurse and Lady Capulet are all incredible. And when you add the general name recognition, as a producer it's almost impossible not to find a reason to like Romeo and Juliet."

Olson, Managing Artistic Director of New Muses Theatre Company, has written yet another adaptation of the Shakespeare classic and will direct it and play the part of Romeo when the company does Romeo and Juliet at Dukesbay Theater in Tacoma.

"When I was a teenager, I think this is a role I wanted to play purely out of ego. Because everybody has heard of Romeo.  But now, having played a lot of really good parts, and some famous parts with the same kind of name recognition, I'm drawn to Romeo because he's a character who feels everything so incredibly powerfully. Every emotion, whether it's love, or anger, or despair, just hits him like a ton of bricks and he just carries that into his everyday life. He's a guy that you absolutely believe can fall in love at first sight, or go off the rails in a murderous rage. And as an emotionally bottled up modern male, that's a very interesting journey for me to take. Plus, he has some of the most incredibly beautiful lines Shakespeare ever wrote, and nothing is more amazing as an actor than getting to work on amazing writing," Olson said.

Deanna Martinez, who plays the Nurse, said: "The richness of the text allows for layered performance: an actor's dream. Of course, all of Shakespeare is comprised of rich text. Romeo and Juliet's added benefit is that it is relatable. I have never been an undermined monarch or vengeful witch, but I have been young and stupid in love. And, now that I am a smidge older and wiser, I have looked at the young people in my life and shaken my head at their youthful ardor. We have been the young lovers, we have been angry parents, we have ached for reconciliation, like the friar. As actors, we can help the audience connect to this perennial favorite."

New Muses' production will be set in Verona, Italy, as was the original, but in modern times. The costuming is all modern, and cell phones take the place of the many messengers found in the original text.

Another major change is that Benvolio (Sara Geiger) is now played by, and as, a woman. "Modernizing the setting gives us the leeway to include more women in fantastic roles, and draws out interesting characteristics in the friendship between Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio," Olson said.

Steve Gallion plays Lord Capulet. Geiger (recently seen in Olympia Family Theatre's The Abolitionist's Wife and in Theater Artists Olympia's Improbable Peck of Plays) plays Benvolio. Jenna McRill (Logaqinne in The Putnam County Spelling Bee at Tacoma Musical Playhouse) plays Juliet. Tony Onorati plays Mercutio, Emily Robinson plays Lady Capulet, Steven Walker plays Tybalt, and Laurence is played by Lance Zielinski.

"We aren't force-feeding a history lesson down anyone's throat or sticking our noses in the air because we're doing "Shakespeare" with a giant capital S," Olson said. "This is Shakespeare being produced because four hundred years ago some guy in London wrote a really good play."

ROMEO AND JULIET, Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m., Jan. 15-31, $10, Dukesbay Theater, Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave., Tacoma

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