BY SANDY STAGGS
The Guerrilla Shakespeare Company knows how to make a proper debut … by inundating the entire city of Greenville.
This brand new theatre group is making its premiere this week at the Quest Brewing Company (as well as three other venues) with the Bard’s most beloved romantic tragedy “Romeo and Juliet.”
But this production isn’t your average story of these iconic doomed lovers, according to company co-founder and star Crystal Marie Stewart, who says she is playing Romeo opposite Giulia Marie Dalbec’s Juliet.
Her portrayal and the queer and gender-bending sensibility in this mostly-female “Romeo and Juliet” personifies the Guerilla objective she and co-founder Micah Miller set out when they formed this unique Shakespeare theatre group in Spring 2017 – “doing classical work that is accessible for different kinds of people and cast them non-traditionally.”
Stewart says in recent years she has seen diversity in theatre increase as far as “a change in skin tone and gender bending, but not a lot of queer character casting.”
The beauty of Shakespeare and other works in the public domain is that “you can do whatever you want as long as it serves the text.” she says. “We didn’t change very much about the story, but when you just change who you cast it just adds the color.”
Director Robert Fuson concurs: “The gender language around Romeo is extremely flexible,” with only an occasional pronoun reference.
But he stresses this Romeo is not a transgender role, “only a female named Romeo, while the sexuality of Juliet is more incidental.”
Stewart, a well-known Upstate actor, who just wrapped up starring turns this summer in “Othello” at The Warehouse Theatre and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with the Upstate Shakespeare Festival, has played a “man” once before early in her career (Gary Coleman in a production of “Avenue Q”), but Romeo is “the most serious male character” she has played to date.
“He is usually a kind of sad sack, but I play him as a butch lesbian, an anxious and awkward teenager,” she adds.
Fuson, a classically-trained actor of the Bard’s canon, helmed Rebecca Whitten’s “To Feel Together: A One-Woman Show on Consent” and Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story” at The Warehouse Theatre, but he is making his Shakespeare directing debut with “Romeo and Juliet.”
He has set the story “in the late 1980s/early 1990s when people are first starting to be open about their sexuality and being proud of it; but you also have a lot of pushback too.”
The dynamics between the rival families have changed as well in this version, Fuson says. For instance, the Montague family represents the “liberal side while the Capulets are conservative, and bound to tradition [about class and sexuality] as they try to marry off Juliet to Paris.”
“The tension between the families leads the characters to feel they have no other options,” he adds.
Fuson says he was very excited about directing this LGBTQ+ production, but he knew he wanted “to dive not just into the love aspect, but also what drives these teens to suicide,” and thematically link the story to the higher risk of suicide among LGBTQ+ youth.
“It’s easy to get wrapped up in the minutiae of everyday life,” Stewarts says. “These are just teenagers who are trying to figure out who they are and want to be.”
“Try to remember being a teenager,” she urges. “They feel like they just have the worst thing happen to them in their life. And at that point, they really have. If we find support for teens, especially LGBTQ teens, we can help them grow into the best version of themselves.”
The cast of mostly USF alums is on stage for pretty much the entire show, which Fuson says makes for smoother scene transitions. “And this lends credibility to a very very minimalistic set, and a looser feel on the costumes and props.”
This terrific supporting cast includes Laura Bunn as Friar Lawrence, Cameron Carlyle Trieper as the Nurse, Caroline Jane Davis as the Prince, Dave LaPage as Lord Capulet, Bethany Carper Reed as Lady Capulet, Sarah Anderson as Lady Montague, Kate Evans as Mercutio, Mae Tromsness as Benvolio, and Sam Nelson as Paris.
And as the company’s name implies, this “Romeo and Juliet” is guerrilla in production values as well as location, as the company without a home improvises and adapts in a number of varied venues from a brewery to an outdoor garden.
It has been a long, arduous journey getting to opening night, admits Stewart who wearing the producer hat for the first time.
“It’s so hard because I have only really ever worked with theatre from the actor’s perspective,” she opines. “The uncertainly of it all. Finding spaces. Turnover in the cast. I know that always happens, but it just has not been my job to worry about it before.”
But Fuson also sees the mobile theatre method as an advantage and is looking forward to interacting with the various spaces. “Come once and come twice” because every show will be wildly different.
All shows start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5. Visit the Guerrilla Shakespeare Theatre Company on Facebook for the latest updates.
Thursdays September 7 and 14:
Quest Brewing Company
55 Airview Dr., Greenville, SC 29607
Fridays September 8 and 15 and Saturday September 16:
188 Kerns Ave., Greenville, SC, 29609
Saturday September 9:
Sans Souci Community Garden (Outdoor)
12 Ethelridge Dr., Greenville, SC, 29609
Sundays September 10 & 17:
914 Easley Bridge Rd, Greenville, SC, 29609