Not just tragic lovers: IRHS shows humor, flaws of 'Romeo and Juliet'

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Cast members of Indian River High School’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ prepare for performances on Feb. 3 and 4. In producing what may be the school’s first drama production in decades, they dropped some of the dialogue and put a modern spin on the classic.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Cast members of Indian River High School’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ prepare for performances on Feb. 3 and 4. In producing what may be the school’s first drama production in decades, they dropped some of the dialogue and put a modern spin on the classic.It’s either the most famous romance of all time, or the silliest. A love story between two teenagers, ages 14 and 17, “Romeo & Juliet” now has modern-day teenagers calling out their literary counterparts out for being a bit overdramatic. And Indian River High School’s new Drama Club is plunging in with its first full production, taking on William Shakespeare’s classic romantic tragedy.

To top it all off, “Romeo & Juliet,” coming at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 3 and 4, may be the first drama production at IRHS in decades. Tickets cost $5 each. Guests can bring extra money for the concession stand at intermission. Indian River High School is located at 29772 Armory Road, Dagsboro.

It’s time for IR’s “hidden talent” to display their acting skills, said English teacher and director Sadie Andros.

“We’re making drastic changes to it,” said senior Christopher Jones (“Paris”). “Although it’s the same story, it’s going to be very different from ‘Romeo & Juliet.’”

They’re taking some liberties with the 400-plus-year-old script, deleting some repetitive dialogue and helping the action move faster.

“It’s very indie, even though we’re using the same language,” said senior Berkleigh Fadden (“Lady Capulet”).

This is modern-day, not Renaissance Italy. The costume ball is reimagined as a garage party. They also added some modern pop and alternative music, with actors singing, and possibly student musicians for background instrumentals.

“We have a lot of musical talent who were angling for a musical,” Andros said. The compromise “introduced some contemporary songs that are relevant to the characters and situations.”

“It should make it a lot more enjoyable,” Fadden said.

Heart wrenching? Meh …

Shakespeare didn’t want audiences to get bored, so he always included humor.

“I’ve liked ‘Romeo & Juliet’ since freshman year. I think its one of the funniest things I’ve ever read,” Fadden said.

(She does know the characters eventually die, right?)

Yes, Fadden said. But IRHS is having fun with that over-the-top melodrama.

“I don’t think emotional is the way we’re going right now,” said senior Sam Nitz (“Romeo”). “It’s more entertaining.”

These aren’t just tragic lovers. The audience will see some of their basic character weaknesses.

“As an audience member, you look at the characters and everything they’ve been through and think, ‘Well, it serves you right,’” said senior Kerinne Walls (“Juliet”).

“I’m an overly-dramatic high schoolboy that is trying to get with as many girls as he can, pretty much!” Nitz said with a laugh.

“Juliet is naïve, lost little puppy who just kinda accepts her fate,” Walls said. “‘Romeo’s dead — ah, dang it, might as well die, too.’”

They’re aided by the Nurse — motherly and, at times, dirty-minded — and a hippy-ish Friar Lawrence who’s reminiscent of the absent-minded Phoebe from “Friends.”

“It’s really funny and entertaining, and that’s the very aspect of it — to be entertaining and to tell the story,” said freshman Aidee Langa (“Nurse”).

“Romeo & Juliet” also has its detractors. One of them is a cast member. Langa is not impressed with the love story, the foolish characters and “love at first sight.” But her love of acting overshadows the characters’ flaws.

“I really like the idea of drama. It’s really fun,” Langa said. “You get to meet new people. You get to see where you can reach and what limits you can achieve.”

About to graduate, Jones hopes to continue in theater in college. Meanwhile, normally shy ninth-grader Logan Snapp (“Friar Lawrence”) uses theater to step outside of her comfort zone.

They encouraged the whole community to attend.

“Come support all the kids who live all around you. I was just so excited the last time we had a show. It didn’t go so perfectly, but they were just so excited,” Andros said. “There’s just a communal experience to theater. Even if you’re in the audience, you’re adding to the production. Being in an audience is better than watching Netflix, for sure.”

(Re)Starting the club

Three years ago, IR’s attempt to start a drama club fizzled out. But when Andros came to IR this autumn, she dusted off those old dreams and proposed a full production.

“The fun of Shakespeare is that we can recreate it now in a multitude of different worlds, and it really does translate,” Andros said. “I wanted them to see how relatable Shakespeare really was.”

Yes, there is a language barrier. Shakespearean English is like a second language, Nitz said. Reciting Shakespeare is a tall order for high schoolers, but most freshmen were already familiar with it, having read “Romeo & Juliet” in class. (Plus, the script is royalty-free.)

Audiences will understand the language when the actors bring those words to life onstage. The students have had quite a learning experience, but they appreciated Andros’s guidance. They called her a fun, supportive teacher who keeps them focused and helps them improve.

Now in her first year teaching underclassman English, Andros graduated from Vanderbilt University, with dramatic training at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art.

The Drama Club recently produced a cabaret, or variety show, to raise money for “Romeo & Juliet.”

Before the Drama Club was revived, “They haven’t had an opportunity to show what they can do,” said Andros. “I think arts education is so important at this age. It gives you speech skills … the ability to work together as a team … educational value.”

Here at the beginning, the underclassmen are looking forward to the Drama Cub growing with new faces and projects.

“I think it’s something that’s overdue,” said Principal Bennett Murray. “It’s nice to have a teacher that has an interest and a love for it to get out there. The kids are excited. … This will be our first production, and I know they are going to do wonderful things.”

Both the students and the community deserve this drama program, Murray said, especially with the arts background many bring from Southern Delaware School of the Arts. IR already has large band, chorus and visual arts programs.

“We always … try to find where our students’ interests are and meet those needs,” Murray said. “I think this is a definite need being met here, and I’m excited for it.”