Barry McNamara  |   Published September 27, 2022

A First for Theatre

Monmouth College will make history with ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ producing Shakespeare’s tragic tale of star-crossed lovers for the first time.

Gabriela Madu ?23 plays Juliet and Cullen Marshall ?23 plays Romeo in the Oct. 7-9 production of ... Gabriela Madu ’23 plays Juliet and Cullen Marshall ’23 plays Romeo in the Oct. 7-9 production of the Shakespeare tragedy. Editor’s Note: Since this story was posted, it’s been learned that Monmouth College did, in fact, stage Romeo and Juliet once before, in 1950. So the Oct. 7-9 performances will be the first on campus in more than 70 years, but not the first ever.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – For the first time, arguably the most well-known William Shakespeare play will be performed at Monmouth College.

'ROMEO AND JULIET': From Oct. 7-9, Shakespeare's tragic tale will be staged at Monmou... 'ROMEO AND JULIET': From Oct. 7-9, Shakespeare's tragic tale will be staged at Monmouth College's Wells Theater.Romeo and Juliet will be staged in Wells Theater Oct. 7-9, directed by theatre professor Todd Quick.

The play may be new to a Monmouth audience, but it’s far from new to Quick, who is now in his fifth year on the faculty.

“I have a long history with this particular play as a performer,” said Quick. “This is my eighth time working on the production but my first time directing it. It’s been on my short list of plays that I’ve been desperate to direct for a long time, for a lot of reasons.”

Those reasons include the “accessibility” of Shakespeare and a “relatable” story, but also a chance to make history on the Monmouth stage.

“When I started digging and discovered that during our 70-plus years of production history that we’ve never produced Romeo and Juliet, it seemed like a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s such an exciting play that I think appeals to our regular theatre-going audience, and also lovers of Shakespeare that might have never attended a production at Monmouth College before. So I think it has some pretty broad, exciting crossover appeal for people. It’s an exciting way to kick off our new season.”

Quick said he has envisioned directing Romeo and Juliet ever since he was a student at SUNY-Geneseo two decades ago, with dreams not limited by budget or technical ability. His department colleague, Doug Rankin, has helped make some of those visions a reality with his creative set design.

“As always, Doug has pulled out all the stops and given us a beautiful, soaring two-story structure, and we’re using every inch of it,” said Quick, who said the set and costumes (designed by another colleague, Vanessa Campagna) will include contemporary and classical elements, a nod to the “universality” of Shakespeare.

‘The Olympics of acting’

Quick said that in addition to the play being new to Monmouth, performing a full-length Shakespeare production is a new experience for his entire 22-member cast.

“The challenges are what makes it fun,” he said. “Everything you’ve got as an actor is required in Shakespeare. It requires technical mastery to handle the language – to make the language accessible and clear for the audience.”

Most of all, said Quick, actors have to ride a metaphorical rollercoaster.

“It requires a huge range of emotional flexibility,” he said. “All of these characters in the play go on incredible emotional journeys. It’s a rollercoaster for all of the characters in this play. To be able to do that honestly is a huge acting challenge. It’s the Olympics of acting.”

Portraying the ‘star-crossed’ lovers

While many of her castmates are making their collegiate stage debut, the actress playing Juliet, Gabriela Madu ’23 of Montego Bay, Jamaica, is a Monmouth theatre veteran and award-winning performer.

“It’s my first Shakespeare production that I’ve ever been in,” said Madu, who helped Quick add musical selections to the show. “Going into it was a tad bit terrifying, but at the same time exciting, especially because as a senior about to go into the world of theatre, it’s good to have the challenge of that kind of role.”

Opposite Madu will be Cullen Marshall ’23 of Kewanee, Illinois, who found Romeo to be “relatable.”

“Romeo’s basically a John Hughes protagonist,” he said, referring to the director of movies such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles. “He’s just a young male in his teens who is trying to figure out his place in the world. Throughout the entire play, he doesn’t have any interactions with his parents, so he seems to be kind of looking for that sort of connection in other places – whether it’s with his friends, or with The Friar, or eventually, with Juliet. … You get to see him act out and make mistakes, just like we all do.”

Madu noted that even though more than four centuries have passed since Shakespeare penned Romeo and Juliet in the 1590s, “It’s still relevant to what we’re doing today.”

Quick agreed.

“Shakespeare was very keenly aware of what played, what sold to an audience, which is why his plays are so full of variety,” he said. “There’s something for everyone. His plays are durable. They stand the test of time.”

And having an audience was extremely important to the playwright.

“Shakespeare was never writing to be read quietly in a classroom and discussed as great literature or poetry,” said Quick. “He knew how to write stories that would compel an audience, that would invite them into the lives of these characters, through the beautiful language, and take the audience on a journey. Shakespeare’s audiences went to ‘hear’ the show … I think the language still does that.”

Students in English professor Marlo Belschner’s Shakespeare class are serving as dramaturgs for the production and two of them will be in attendance 30 minutes before each of the three dates for a “know the show” talk. Dareann Pettis ’26 of Monmouth will serve as an ASL interpreter for each performance.

# # #

Monmouth College will present “Romeo and Juliet” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7-8 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Wells Theater on the College’s campus. Tickets can be purchased online at monmouthcollege.edu/box-office. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, and $6 for students and faculty with a Monmouth College ID.

Listen Up …

On “Monmouth Conversations,” director Todd Quick and actors Gabriela Madu ’23 and Cullen Marshall ’23 preview “Romeo and Juliet” and talk about their first experience with Shakespeare.

 

The cast of ?Romeo and Juliet,? which will be presented Oct. 7-9 at the Wells Theater. The cast of “Romeo and Juliet,” which will be presented Oct. 7-9 at the Wells Theater.

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