During a time when the aftermath of World War II left Italy with a destroyed economy and a divided society, a pair of star-crossed lovers took their life. This is the story of Romeo and Juliet—a gritty play with sweat and blood.
Portland State’s School of Theatre and Film presents a provocative and inspirational production of William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo + Juliet, premiering Feb. 28 in Lincoln Performance Hall. The play will be led by special guest director Jim Iorio.
Iorio is an adjunct professor of voice and movement at PSU as well as a professional actor and director. He was recently on Broadway in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge with Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber. Iorio’s television and film work includes Law & Order, and Leverage and Grimm. Locally, he has starred as Benedick in the Portland Center Stage production of Much Ado About Nothing.
Iorio has been in 24 professional Shakespeare productions and is familiar with Shakespearean language. This production will be a fresh take on the classic story.
“If I have worked [on] something before, I try to come to it completely fresh, as if it were just written, never produced, not hampered by preconceived notions,” Iorio said.
In this production, Iorio had moved the setting from the original Verona to a small post-war mountain village in southern Italy, circa 1948; a place that was heavily affected by WWII when the Allies pushed out Nazi forces.
“The setting made sense for the fact the folks in the story would carry around the bayonets left behind from WWII soldiers as weapons,” Iorio said.
Shakespeare’s Italy was fictional, while Iorio’s Italy derives from the American image of post-war Italy. A good impression of what this version of Italy would be like is the 1950s movies of Federico Fellini, Iorio said.
“A time when the young guys have no work, a lot of time on their hands, out on the street getting into trouble.”
The costume and set designers are also working with imagery from films such as Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief and Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso.
The play explores the political divide in Italy at the time, as a new political regime was coming in, aiding to the division of the town.
“I also wanted to focus on the conflict never fully described in the text between the houses of Capulet and Montague,” Iorio said.
Iorio’s dedication to a new direction for Romeo + Juliet can also be found in the play’s cast members.
In the leading role of Juliet is Shawna Holt, a senior at PSU studying theater. She has also played Ya Ya in the winter quarter stage reading of Limonade Tous le Jours.
Holt is beaming with excitement for the role. Even as a lead character in the play, she still has goals for developing herself as an actor.
“Personally, I want to let go of holding back vocally, emotionally. To let the words really move me,” Holt said.
Juliet is usually known as a young naïve girl in love, but for Holt, it is a priority to break that mold.
“I want the audience to feel and understand that the emotions, the character is real. Love makes you insane and do crazy things, but Juliet knows what she is feeling is real. She is logical and smart. I want to portray and show a Juliet not anyone has ever seen,” Holt said.
“I believe the time period helps to show how Juliet’s actions were even more against the grain in society’s proper standards for a woman. Iorio supports us by giving us an outlet to be the characters that we want to bring to the table,” Holt said.
Friend and former co-actor Robyn Daniel, a senior at PSU, will be playing Juliet’s nurse.
Seasoned actors continue to push their boundaries as well. There is a first time for everything, and for Daniel this is her first Shakespearean play.
“It is like speaking a foreign language,” Daniel said. “This role is real, an emotional roller coaster, as she is really funny and at other times distressed.”
Tickets are available at the PSU Box Office: pdx.edu/boxoffice