Swine Palace veers to tragedy, presents classic ‘Romeo & Juliet’ in 90 minutes

Swine Palace is bringing William Shakespeare’s timeless story of young love, “Romeo & Juliet,” to the stage.

“We usually stage Shakespeare’s comedies during the summer,” says artistic director George Judy. “This is the first time we’re doing one of his tragedies.”

Not that “Romeo & Juliet” doesn’t have its humorous moments.

“It’s written like a romantic comedy,” Judy says. “But a romantic comedy that goes bad.”

The story of forbidden love between two teenagers from feuding families appeals to audiences, and Judy plans to restage it for Swine Palace’s high school tour next spring.

But now Shakespeare’s classic will play out on the Reilly Theatre stage, starting July 8, with Amar Atkinson as Romeo and Amanda Clark as Juliet. Both are members of the LSU Department of Theatre’s master of fine arts program, which makes up Swine Palace’s resident company of actors.

The production is condensed into 90 minutes.

“We compress them to give the audience the best experience possible,” Judy says. “And we hope that it will also appeal to audience members who don’t usually go see Shakespeare plays. Maybe it will draw them to future Shakespeare productions.”

Shakespeare wrote “Romeo and Juliet” between 1591 and 1595, and Swine Palace’s production is sticking to that time frame. After all, teenage angst really hasn’t changed in four centuries.

Clark experienced her own while growing up in Broomfield, Colorado.

“When I was young, I loved the ‘Romeo + Juliet’ with Leonardo diCaprio,” she says, referring to director Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film. “So, it’s always been a dream of mine to play Juliet.”

She thinks of the character as “youthful, vivacious and gorgeous,” Clark says. “But I’m making her more quirky. She’s really sweet, and she’s curious about the world.”

Atkinson, however, had no such dreams.

“But I’m the opposite from Amanda,” he says. “I read ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in high school, but I never saw myself being in a production of the play until now.”

Clark, of Atlanta, also is in his second year in the master’s program.

“My Romeo is similar to the traditional Romeo,” Atkinson says. “He loves the idea of love.”

But teenagers in love need guidance, something they can’t seek from their feuding parents. So in steps Friar Laurence, played by Joe Morris. His character gives Juliet the potion that sends her into a deep sleep. Her family believes she is dead, and, unfortunately, so does Romeo.

The world has always been intrigued by young love, and the tragic tale of “Romeo & Juliet” has captivated audiences for centuries, as it’s sure to do again here.

“It’s something that the world holds on to,” Judy says.

CAST: Alexander Adams, Peter; Ashley Adams, Escalus; Tyler Ales, Balthasar/Page; Amar Atkinson, Romeo; Addie Barnhart, Lady Capulet; Amanda Clark, Juliet; Carter Dean, Gregory/First Watchman; Michael Guillot, Sampson/Second Watchman; Curran Latas, Abram/Third Watchman; Greg Luete, Capulet; Nancy Litton, Lady Montague; Magongie McGurn, Benvolio; Tim Moriarty, Tybalt/Paris; Joe Morris, Friar Laurence; Colt Neidhart, Mercutio/ Montague; Bacot Wright, Nurse.

ARTISTIC STAFF: George Judy, director; Weston Twardowski, assistant director; Matthew Duvall, design coordinator; Adam Waguespack, lighting designer; Susan Coates, assistant lighting designer; Maggie McGurn, costume designer; Alexandra Groth, sound designer; Alexander Adams, assistant sound designer; Jordan Campbell, stage manager; Sara Stevens, assistant stage manager.