Shakespeare public theater enriches south Florida

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Following the show, seniors Gabriela Coutinho, Isabel Mitre, Gavin Grnja and Olivia Lloyd sit on the steps in front of the show’s simple set in the ArtsPark amphitheater. (Photo submitted by Olivia Lloyd)

The Florida Shakespeare Theater mounted an informal yet intimate production of “Romeo and Juliet” during its four-week long run of Shakespeare in the Park. The company held free performances in four different locations in South Florida, beginning in PineCrest Gardens and closing at the ArtsPark amphitheater in Hollywood this weekend.

The professional actors perform without pay but with the same commitment to their craft as they would give to any paid professional job. This latest performance was no exception. Susannah Eig, who played Juliet, executed an authentic and compelling job that was one of the more memorable renditions of the night. Jordon Armstrong similarly played a classic rendition of Romeo.

An important element of the show was that it was free to attend, making quality theater accessible to all. “It was so relaxing and lovely to spend time with my friends enjoying Shakespeare in a very casual, open environment,” senior Gabriela Coutinho said. “There isn’t a huge Shakespeare scene in South Florida, so it’s wonderful to see a company dedicated to producing his works. I’m also very passionate about accessible theater, and I think it’s really important to promote public art. What better way is there to do that than free Shakespeare?” Coutinho attended the closing performance at ArtsPark with friends and spoke with some of the actors after the show.

Although director Colleen Stovall chose not to adapt the context of the play, instead setting it in the original Renaissance time period of “Romeo and Juliet,” small alterations to the play made the traditional show more novel. For instance, Stovall’s decision to cast Mercutio as a woman proved a nice addition to the show, as actress Samantha Kaufman handled the role with authenticity and bravado.

“My favorite part was definitely the actresses for Juliet and Mercutio,” said senior Gavin Grnja, who attended Saturday’s performance. “They were super talented and delivered their lines really well. All in all I feel like the the quality of the show was so, so good, and the whole thing was free, which is kind of crazy.”

Another change, one that the cast did not execute as cleanly, was a sword fight between Armstrong and Eig during the iconic balcony scene. Eig leaped from her balcony and stole one of Armstrong’s swords, then proceeded to spar him in a contrived duel. This altercation ended in a long kiss between the two characters. The decision to turn violence to romance in a scene of misdirected passion leads to dangerous implications, ones that director Colleen Stovall likely did not intend. Aside from this oversight, Stovall nicely pulled off the classic play. Michele Perkins, who played the Nurse in the show, indicated that the company is thinking of doing “Taming of the Shrew” during its next Shakespeare in the Park cycle.

The theater company hosts events year-round throughout South Florida. An upcoming event Feb. 13 in Coral Gables features a reading of anti-love Shakespeare poetry as a preliminary response to Valentine’s Day. Events such as these, in addition to the performances, testify to the company’s dedication to showcasing the legacy of Shakespeare’s influential works to this day.

Olivia is a senior hailing from South Florida. In addition to newspaper, she has worked on the staff of Expressions Literary Magazine and is an editor of Spotlight Yearbook. Additionally, she is co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Pressing the Future, an online international news organization. She has a passion for both journalistic and creative writing, but outside of the writing sphere she is a cross-country runner and social rights activist.

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