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Quill Theatre’s “Romeo and Juliet” Tackles Issues of Violence and Generational Conflict 

click to enlarge Liz Earnest as Juliet and Nate Ritsema as Romeo show what committed teens can do in Quill Theatre’s production of the timeless Shakespeare classic.

Chris Smith

Liz Earnest as Juliet and Nate Ritsema as Romeo show what committed teens can do in Quill Theatre’s production of the timeless Shakespeare classic.

Last weekend's March for Our Lives was one of the largest protests in American history, with an estimated turnout of 2 million people. This speaks to the igniting force a group of committed teenagers can become if they can manage to make themselves heard — and be taken seriously — by adults in power.

These themes are echoed in what is arguably Shakespeare's most famous and ubiquitous play, "Romeo and Juliet." The titular lovers are themselves a pair of teenagers who, like the Parkland teens and countless others across the country, live in the midst of extreme violence. The play that many associate with eternal love and romance is a bloody tragedy filled with teenagers murdering one another out of vengeance, with the adults either ignoring or encouraging it.

"It speaks to the experience of the older generations failing the younger," says James Ricks, who co-directed the upcoming Quill Theatre production of the play with Jan Powell. "It's interesting to see this occur in our own country right now. Although, this time the younger generation might actually have a lasting impact."

Even as it tackles big issues like violence and generational conflict, "Romeo and Juliet" continues to resonate with audiences in part because there is also the love story to which anyone can relate. "Everyone remembers their first real love," Ricks says. "It's life-altering. Set against a backdrop of incredible danger and a stifling hot climate, that kind of love is thrilling to watch."

Liz Earnest, who plays Juliet in this production, says that although she wasn't much like Juliet as a teenager, she still finds her character relatable. "I wish I had been half as brave as she is," she says. "The things Juliet goes through in the play are extraordinary, but her circumstances are genuine: falling in love, fighting with your parents, struggling to find your sense of self."

Earnest says this production combines modern and classical elements in its sound design, staging, choreography and costumes. "You'll be treated to some really beautiful contemporary interpretations of Renaissance clothing," she says.

Ricks and Earnest emphasize that sword fighting is one of the best parts of the show. "You'll see plenty of swords and daggers," Earnest says. "Impressively wielded, I must say."

Ricks hopes this production will appeal to audiences that are familiar with the play as well as those who might be unfamiliar. And he also hopes it gets people talking.

"Context is always the final character in any play," Ricks says. "And in this case we're being offered an interesting opportunity to talk about how older generations impact society's customs, its laws and perspective."

"The idea that two people can find overwhelming love in a world that wants to pit them against each other is so powerful," Earnest says. "There's hope in the idea that new generations can overcome those circumstances and fight for a better world by unifying." S

Quill Theatre's "Romeo and Juliet" runs from April 6 - 22 at Leslie Cheek Theater at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 200 N. Boulevard. Tickets cost $35. quilltheatre.org.

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