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Accessible Shakespeare: ‘Romeo and Juliet’ moving, modern

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Playhouse production Feb. 1-9

By Emily Pollok

The Community Playhouse of Lancaster County is bringing an entertaining, exciting and emotive performance of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to the stage starting this weekend, with an intriguing cast of new and recurring actors.
“I think audiences who are afraid of Shakespeare because of the language are going to be really surprised,” said Director Harold Skinner at rehearsal Tuesday night. “They’re going to come and see something that they really do understand and that they can be entertained and moved by.”
This is Skinner’s first time directing for the Community Playhouse, although he has previously acted in 10 of the playhouse’s productions including “Hairspray,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
Skinner is the director of Focus Theatre at Andrew Jackson High School and was previously a professional actor and director.
The play tells the tragic tale of young, star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, whose romance is threatened by a fierce feud between their rival families, the Montagues and Capulets.
“Anybody who can experience love can experience this play,” Skinner said.
This rendition of “Romeo and Juliet” is set in modern times, although it retains the traditional Shakespearean dialogue, cut back to facilitate a shorter performance.
“We are not wearing the fancy velvet robes. We are not fighting with swords, although we do have daggers in this.... Juliet’s party is a backyard barbecue!” the director explained. “To me this has got to be something that an audience can relate to. I want them to feel like there’s something familiar about it. I want them to see what, in this play, is timeless.”
The dynamic cast, drawn from all over the county, brings a fresh interpretation to the play’s familiar characters.
Tim DuPre adds a touch of comedy to the play as the witty Mercutio, while Katie Bearden shines in her role as the fiery Tybalt.
The title roles are played by younger members of the cast.
Spencer Dulin, a 12th grader at Fort Mill High School, plays Romeo, his first role with Lancaster’s community playhouse.
Dulin has previously acted with the Rock Hill Community Theatre.
“I’ve never done a play before. I’ve only done musicals,” said the 17-year-old. “People say Shakespeare is hard to understand, but I love it.”
Juliet is played by Madeleine Essex, a 9th grader at Indian Land High School and a regular cast member with the playhouse.
“It was very hard to sort of develop Juliet as a character for me, but I think it’s really coming together in the past few weeks because I’ve started to kind of incorporate her into my daily life – dressing like her, acting like her,” said the 15-year-old.
“It’s so much fun to see everything come to life.”
This production promises to thrill audiences with an impressive group of local actors performing one of Shakespeare’s best-known and beloved plays.
“Don’t be afraid because it’s Shakespeare, because these actors really know what they’re doing. They know what they’re saying, and they will make you understand what’s going on,” Skinner said. “You will amazed at how they bring it alive.”
Performances of “Romeo and Juliet” are 7:30 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7, 8 and 9 at Barr Street Auditorium, 610 E. Meeting St., Lancaster.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and $5 for children ages 5 and under. For tickets, call (803) 285-7451 or visit www.lancasterplayhouse.com. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.

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'Romeo and Juliet'
Cast
Romeo: Spencer Dulin
Juliet: Madeleine Essex 
Benvolio: Aaron Warren
Balthasar: Isabella Kiger
Abram: Trinity Hammel
Lady Montague: Genni Tiffany 
Tybalt: Katie Bearden 
Sampson: Rylee Jenkins
Gregory: Diana Kiger 
Lord Capulet: Tony Ellis 
Lady Capulet: Beckie Johnson
Nurse: Lisa Essex 
Mercutio: Tim DuPre 
Paris: Miller DeVenny 
Mayor (Prince) Escalus: Brenner Hartley
Friar Lawrence: David Johnson 
Crew
Director: Harold Skinner 
Stage manager: Catie Rowell
Assistant stage manager: Catherine Wallace
Fight choreographer: Charles Holmes
Set/light/sound designer: Joe Timmons III
Sound and light board operators: Valerie Sims and Emily Geraghty
Running crew: Catie Rowell, Catherine Wallace and Ginger Warren

Follow Emily Pollok on Twitter @PollokEmily or contact her at (803) 283-1155.