For the 79th season of the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, the students of the Department of Theatre Arts are performing Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo and Juliet.”
Directed by acting and directing professor Laura Rikard, “Romeo and Juliet” tells the tragic love story of two star-crossed lovers whose forbidden love ends in death. The diverse cast helps illustrate the stark juxtaposition between Shakespeare’s Verona and modern society.
What has set apart the Ring’s production from other adaptions of “Romeo and Juliet” is the gender-fluid choice in casting. Benvolio, written as a male in the original screenplay, was played by senior Uma Paranjpe, and the Prince was portrayed by sophomore Jamilah Muhammad, both women. Additionally, the role of the nurse was played by senior Daniel Barrett.
Jennifer Kiefer, a BFA Stage Management Major, explained that the decision to flip the gender for several roles was a very modern direction that a lot of different theaters were taking.
“Hopefully, this play can open people’s eyes to different interpretations of Romeo and Juliet,” said Kiefer.
Audience members Aya Hamza and Aiesha Chebbi, sophomores at Coral Reef Senior High, expressed their support for the non-traditional casting choices.
“It brings a new level to the character that shatters traditional stereotypes,” said Aiesha.
“Even though many of the parts are played by the opposite sex, the cast portrays the role extremely well, and you can tell that by the audience’s reaction,” said Aya.
Barrett performed his role of the nurse in full drag.
Barrett has been performing in live theater since he was five years old. A musical theater major, he did not originally audition for the nurse, but after being cast, he was excited for the challenges that came with gender-bending roles.
“This role was definitely further out of my comfort zone than things I have done in the past,” Barrett said. “I have done a lot of drag performance, but with an acting degree we are challenged to step into the role of a different character. It was the first time that I was cast for a role that was originally meant for a woman.”
Barrett explained that it was comforting to know that in the original performances of Shakespeare’s plays, all of the roles were portrayed by men.
When asked if Barrett felt any sort of energy from the audience based on his character, he responded, “With live theater, there will always be a reaction. I like to think of the audience as another actor on stage, especially with Shakespeare. We need the audience to meet us halfway.”
“There’s always judgment and skepticism, but with any show, regardless of switching gender, we really have to work to get the audience on our side. I think that at the end of the show, people will walk away understanding the show for its full form,” said Barrett.
“Romeo and Juliet” will be playing at the Ring Theater until November 18.
For tickets and information, visit http://www.as.miami.edu/ringtheatre/