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Romeo and Juliet, Langley High School, McLean, Virginia, December 6, 2019

Lily Perez

Woodrow Wilson High School


With our country on the brink of the 2020 election, Langley High School's "Romeo & Juliet" seamlessly married past and present, lending the archetypal tale of star-crossed lovers a strong political twist. Itself a derivative of Ovid's "Pyramus and Thisbe," "Romeo and Juliet" was first performed in the 16th century and has since been retold countless times, becoming one of Shakespeare's most well-known plays. Langley High School's production re-imagines the feuding families between whom a forbidden love arises as political parties, with detailed technical elements and nuanced performances, link the classic tale to contemporary issues.


Playing the eponymous couple, Cole Sitilides and Hannah Cameron-Cadenazzi made instantly recognizable, iconic lines seem fresh and authentic. As Romeo, Sitilides' vulnerable and honest performance translated Shakespeare's poetic verbiage into the relatable pining of young love. His effortless chemistry with Cameron-Cadenazzi's Juliet (imagined in this production as a feisty daughter of the political elite) served to portray the continued resonance of love, even in a society fractured by negative partisanship. Peter Fox as Friar Lawrence and Samantha Brunjes as Juliet's Nurse were compelling foils to the reckless passion of youth. Both showed that the best efforts of adults in protecting the young are not unalloyed; Friar Lawrence comforted Romeo and Juliet in parallel scenes which showed their desperation in the second act, but later subtly portrayed the friar's own guilt at seeing his plans to preserve the pair's future come undone. In an equally dynamic performance, Brunjes brought a distinct physicality and accent to her role. She maintained that characterization in both comedic scenes and in scenes that required she be overwhelmed by grief.


This production asserted that the playing field of politics are not only the edifices of government but the arenas of public discourse and quotidian life, from the basketball field to the golf course. Representing extreme partisanship and how it can lead to violent ends, Samuel Buroker as Mercutio and Chris Morgan as Tybalt displayed strong physical performances which were highlighted by thrillingly executed fight scenes. Buroker's Mercutio was a basketball-bearing picture of debauchery and eloquence, crafting a hilarious and magnetic character whose death would incite the drastic tonal shift of the play. His emotionally compelling performance served as the cornerstone of the charismatic dynamic among Mercutio, Benvolio (Leland Hao) and Romeo.


Some characters seek social advancement via the channels of political power, such as Ryan Wilson's perfectly sleazy Paris and Hannah Toronto's Lady Capulet, whom she initially portrayed as a vapid trophy wife, but then gave nuance to by exploring anguish and rage throughout later scenes. Finally, the rare, yet vital picture of bipartisanship lay in Mary Kurbanov's quietly powerful performance as the Prince.


Mark Mahdessian's minimalist set featured divided, yet mirror-image platforms upon which the political candidates were advertised - a choice deeply symbolic of the ideological dichotomy today that the young lovers had to overcome. Each platform was topped with a large screen where effective projections would become integral to conveying the settings of the production. Underscored by Cao Linh Pham's original composition, the production ran seamlessly with the work of the efficient stage crew. Costuming suited to specific locations enhanced the show's concept, as well as detailed, professional quality props, including multiple campaign t-shirts. Thorough marketing and publicity work took cues from political campaigns, advertising in favor of the production's two candidates.


What's in a name? In the richly constructed contemporary society of this production, Montague and Capulet were monikers of a pervasive political rivalry. Conflating the political and Shakespearean theatres, Langley's "Romeo & Juliet" urged the audience to consider how they might reach across those divisions.

Kara Murri

McLean High School

Masses march for their rights, political tensions boil over, and two presidential candidates go head to head in a fierce competition to be number one. No, this is not the 2020 election, but Langley High School's masterful retelling of "Romeo & Juliet," a modern story of two star-crossed lovers, complete with romance, rivalry, and Republicans.


Penned over 400 years ago around 1595, William Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet" incorporates elements of tragedy, comedy, and romance into one of the most well-known narratives of all time, its countless adaptations cementing the story in pop-culture. It follows a familiar plot: a pair of young lovers on opposing sides of an ancient family rivalry defy all odds to be together. But in a tragic twist of fate, the merriment quickly turns to melancholy with their untimely deaths.


The infusion of modern-day political rhetoric into an age-old story made Langley High School's production unique. A slideshow of images set to The Temptation's song "Ball of Confusion" opened the show, perfectly capturing the chaos of the upcoming election. To enhance this frenetic energy, a sizable ensemble of constituents crafted a cacophony of camera flashes and chants that established the feuding parties' hatred towards each other, proving ominous for our leading lovers.


As the starry-eyed Romeo, Cole Sitilides channeled his character's passion into a raw, compelling, near-perfect performance that struck emotion into each audience member's heart. Every love-struck glance, powerfully delivered sonnet, and tearful goodbye established Sitilides as a versatile, emotionally adept presence.


Hannah Cameron-Cadenazzi took on the role of Juliet and handled it with aplomb. Most notable was her emotional maturity and astounding ability to connect with her counterpart, Sitilides. Tender and youthful, the pair developed a convincing attachment to each other, culminating in the poignant and moving scene of their suicides.


The comedic champion of the night was Samuel Buroker as Mercutio, his over-the-top magnetism and clownish charm leaving the audience roaring as he tastefully delivered countless sex jokes and witty quips. From a few pelvic thrusts here to a middle finger there, Buroker shamelessly demonstrated his mastery of physical comedy.  When in combination with Romeo and the playful Benvolio (Leland Hao), a lively, humorous dynamic emerged among the three, which was truly a delight to watch.


With verve and vitality, the Nurse (Samantha Brunjes) was particularly entertaining, inserting bawdy innuendos into casual conversation, her hunched back and humorous British accent adding to the hilarity. In contrast, two characters established themselves as rational presences: Friar Lawrence (Peter Fox) with his calm voice and confident stride, and the Prince (Mary Kurbanov) with a commanding tone and authoritative posture.


To aid the numerous scene changes and create an immersive atmosphere, two projector screens, run by Teddy Spaner, rested on simplistic platforms, presenting images of modern locations, from basketball courts to golf courses. After the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, votive candles lit the screen in sweet simplicity. Another clarifying technical aspect was the costumes, which showed each character's allegiances. Clever changes in lighting greatly enhanced emotional and tense moments, particularly during Romeo and Juliet's first meeting. A single spotlight drew focus to the couple, the scene slowing down for a moment as the two gazed into each other's eyes. To reflect each scene's mood, Cao Linh Pham composed music that was performed by a live quartet during scene transitions.


As the house lights came up, the ill-starred lovers remained cold upon their deathbed, and the teary-eyed audience left Langley High School pondering its message of unity, moved by this tale of woe, the story of Juliet and her Romeo.


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