Tulane stages an 1800s ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Since Shakespeare’s time, “Romeo and Juliet” has been the subject of at least two dozen operas and dozens of popular songs. The latest adaptation of this classic love story opens Thursday in the Lupin Theatre at Tulane University for a run through July 27. Moved up more than 400 years from its original setting in late 14th century Verona, the Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre production takes place in the early 1800s during the Napoleonic conquest of Italy.

But, except for the more “modern” setting and costuming, the plot line remains the same and names are unchanged. This is intentional, according to Amy Boyce Holtcamp, director of the Tulane production.

“I was interested in that time period because Napoleon’s conquest of Europe was a time that was both bloody and extremely militaristic. But there was also an aura of glamour surrounding his wife Josephine,” Holtcamp explained. “I thought that combination of glamour and extreme violence was consistent with the setting for the original ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ That’s what makes this production fresh and new to me this time around.”

For Holtcamp, this is familiar turf. It is her third time directing “Romeo and Juliet,” but the first time in a 19th century milieu. On another occasion, at Atlanta’s Serenbe Playhouse, she directed Joe Callarco’s adaptation of the story (re-titled “Shakespeare’s R&J”), which takes place at a strictly run, present-day boarding school.

The change in time period also gives some of the play’s characters a different frame of reference than the original Shakespeare version, most notably the Prince of Verona.

He has the unenviable task of trying to suppress the violence of the long-running Montague-Capulet feud. According to Holtcamp, “As part of an outsider force, he is not someone who grew up in Verona, knowing about this rivalry. He is an outsider who unwittingly walks into this environment of feudal clashes and personal vendettas and he has to deal with it.”

So, instead of jockeying for supremacy in a sovereign city-state as in the original Shakespeare version, the two families are rivals in trying to curry favor with the new regime.

Lord Capulet, especially, is attempting to accomplish this by offering Juliet as barter to an eligible male in the Prince’s family, Holtcamp explains. Of course, this doesn’t sit too well with her once her eyes lock with Romeo’s.

Holding down the title roles in the Summer Lyric production are Ben Carbo, a NOCCA grad with a BFA from North Carolina School of Arts as Romeo, and Tulane BFA alumnus Emily Russell as Juliet.

In supporting roles are James Bartelle (Mercutio/Prince), Silas Cooper (Friar Laurence), Wendy Miklovic (Nurse), Danny Bowen (Lord Capulet), Sam Dudley (Benvolio), Stephen Eckert (Paris/Gregory), Casey Groves (Lord Montague/Apothecary), Joey Pilka (Sampson), Diana Shortes (Lady Capulet), Burton Tedesco (Tybalt) and Joel Derby (Balthasar).

A recent arrival to the New Orleans area from her native Rye, N.Y., Holtcamp has much to look forward to. In addition to directing Le Petit Theatre’s production of “Death of a Salesman” in May 2014, she will be teaching at NOCCA in the fall, and her husband, Victor Holtcamp, starts his second year of teaching drama at Tulane next month.

And, as icing on the cake, the Holtcamps will be welcoming a new arrival — a son — in September.