Actors Theatre of Louisville will kick off its new season next week with a contemporary production of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Louisville native and former Actors Theatre apprentice Tony Speciale.
Speciale was a member of the 1998-99 acting apprentice company. He returned to Actors Theater in the 2000 Humana Festival of New American Plays for a role in Charles Mee’s “Big Love.” The director was Les Waters. Fast forward twelve years and Waters has invited Speciale back to direct the first play in his first season as artistic director.
Speciale is the associate artistic director of New York’s Classic Stage Company, where he directs Shakespeare and other classics. His strategy for keeping historic work fresh is to approach every production like a brand new script.
“Don’t take anything for granted, try to read it with a fresh perspective, and all of the preconceived notions we might think we have of a play, what if we tried to strip that away and surprise ourselves with what the meaning is?” says Speciale.
His production of “Romeo and Juliet” is set in an affluent suburb. The Montagues are old money, while the Capulets are a little flashier—think “The Real Housewives of Fair Verona.” Actors Theatre enlisted Christian Frederickson, formerly of Rachel’s, to compose an atmospheric techno score.
These contemporary details don’t alter the nature of Shakespeare’s play, which is as much about the families of Verona as it is about Romeo and Juliet.
“It’s the most famous love story ever told, but it’s also a play about bad parenting and it’s about materialism and the things you pass on to your children,” he says.
Speciale says the backyard set—complete with swimming pool—becomes nightmarish by the second act, when the threat of violence becomes very real.
“It’s a very violent culture, and part of the story of Romeo and Juliet is how that violence permeates every aspect of these characters’ lives,” says Speciale. “Romeo and Juliet are these two young lovers who are 17, 18, who find this spark amidst this very violent culture. They try to survive but the violence takes over everything.”
“Romeo and Juliet” goes into previews Tuesday. The play opens September 6 and runs through September 26.