By Brian Harris, Staff Writer
Shakespeare in Buttonwood’s Romeo and Juliet, produced by The Glass Horse Project, opened with the play’s director Emma Givney introducing the audience to what she said was hopefully the start of a new tradition of theater for New Bedford. After the quality of performance on display on Saturday, one can only hope she was right.
The first thing that immediately jumped out was the diversity of the cast, and I mean that in every sense of the word.
The very first scene in the play features a battle between the characters of Tybalt and Benvolio (anyone who already knew that knows their Shakespeare), but what might shock you is that both characters are played by women.
In fact, over half of the cast has been gender swapped, with everyone from the Nurse to Mercutio swapping genders. This twist gives the play a slightly different feel and perspective, one that Emma Givney says is 100 percent intentional.
Taking place in a dystopian future, Givney said she wanted a rich vs. poor theme for her adaptation, and that fit perfectly into what she calls the “militarized matriarchy” theme of the play.
Her inspirations were originally based on more traditional views of dystopian society.
When the casting was consisting mostly of women, the idea came to her. “It was a matter of function,” she says of the predominantly female cast, “but they killed it.”
Another key point that sets this adaptation apart from the pack was the inclusion of ASL (American Sign Language) to the production. Lissa King, the talented actress who portrays Juliet in this adaptation told me that she is “50-60 percent deaf.”
Seeing this as a strength, Emma used this as an opportunity to incorporate sign language into the story. “I wasn’t going to change the text,” Emma said, “but I wanted to show [that] people weren’t all the same.”
The play also sets itself apart in diversity of age and experience, another aspect of the performance that they nailed. The role of Friar Laurence is portrayed by Tony Ferreira, a man with over forty-five years of acting experience throughout New England.
Picking up the dual role of Tybalt and Paris is Jess Wilson, with an impressive 25 years on the stage. No stranger to the material, she performs in at least one Shakespeare production a year and is a founding member of “Mid-Summer Shakespeare.”
Most of this talented cast and project has ties to UMass D. Whether they’re alumni, veterans of 20 Cent Fiction and some even used to work at the radio station. Almost everyone involved has a connection to our school in one way or another.
Talking about The Glass Horse Project wouldn’t be complete without mentioning its founder, Korey J. Pimental, who also portrayed the role of the Nurse. Not only is he an alumnus of the school, his mentor is also a professor here, Professor Morgan J. Peters.
Professor Peters said this about his protégé: “Korey has the right combination of talent and the determination to do big things in theater and I’m glad I could play a small role in helping him get there. He has all of the elements of a legend in the making.” After seeing their interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, I’m inclined to agree with Professor Peters.