“It’s very funny. We really do treat this as a comedy until it’s not.”
Which Shakespeare play are artists O’Malley Steuerman and Betse Lyons referring to? As You Like It? Perhaps A Midsummer Night’s Dream? More than just a name has been updated here. Their Romeo and Juliet, styled as R/J, brings comedy, contemporary flair, and representation to the Strand Theater Stage to complete their 15th season.
Cover Image: Production photo of R/J at the Strand Theatre. Photo by Erik W Photography, erikwphotography.com, @erikwphotography on Instagram
Previously cast together in Strand Theater’s production of Christmas at Pemberley, Steurman and Lyons initially laughed at the idea of performing together in a play like Romeo and Juliet. “A trans Romeo and a fat Juliet? That would never happen, that’d be nice,” recalls Steuerman, “and then it kind of sunk in, that would be really nice, make it happen.”
After a year of planning, submitting a proposal, and collaborating with playwrights Aladrian C. Wetzel and Elizabeth Ung on a new adaptation, the duo are indeed making it happen, bringing their interpretation to the stage and starring in the titular roles in a devised adaptation they hope audiences will identify with. Beyond the titular romance, centered themes include family structures, violence, love, duty, identity, and death.
“The new language really helps with that because it is more contemporary. And I think people will find it a more accessible version of the story because of the contemporary aspects of it and modern language,” says Lyons, “so audiences will see themselves reflected more.”
When exploring the social issues represented in this adaptation including queerness and body positivity, Steuerman was surprised to discover many moments of discussion were found in the original text, noting that “there are a few little funny moments between people that I think queer audience members will really get to feel like they’re in on.”
Lyons says audiences should plan to “come and get rowdy” at this interactive production directed by Susan Stroupe. Expect performers to move near and speak directly to audience members and know that it’s ok to reply. Lyons is clear on her vision for the theatrical experience: “I want people to know that you can come here and be unabashedly rowdy and responsive!”
R/J opens on Friday, June 9, 2023, and runs through Sunday, June 25, 2023. Thursday-Saturday performances start at 8pm, Sunday matinees start at 2pm.
* NOTE: Due to the sudden passing of one of the crew members of this production, opening night has been moved to Saturday, June 17. The remaining six performances of R/J will be held as scheduled. More information is their website at strand-theater.org.
Theatre Writer for Baltimore OUTloud.
Bekah is a Baltimore-based ally who is obsessed with all things Broadway. In addition to written reviews, she creates social media theatre content @broadwaybekahchica. When she’s not at a show or organizing her Playbills, you can find her rehearsing with the New Wave Singers of Baltimore, enjoying stoop night with friends, or snuggled up with her husband and pets.
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