The tragic ending of Romeo and Juliet is turned on its head in two new productions, including one we wrote about last week at the Morgan-Wixson. It turns again in The Romantics, opening on September 10 in West Hollywood’s Kings Road Park
In the 138-year-old play, neighboring parents concoct a fake feud to make their son and daughter think they are ill-fated lovers. Their scheme succeeds and the two fall in love, but now the “feuding” parents need to find a way to reconcile so that the couple can wed. They stage a fake abduction and successfully inspire a heroic rescue. Wedding plans are made, and the wall between the parents’ neighboring properties is torn down. However, it doesn’t take long before the two families realize, as so many have, that walls make good neighbors.
The Buzz interviewed Suzanne Hunt, director and co-producer of The Romantics, for some inside information about the upcoming production.
Could you tell us about the relationship between the City of West Hollywood and Classical Theatre Lab?
As a resident theater company in West Hollywood, the Classical Theatre Lab has been producing shows for WeHo’s Free Theatre in the Parks since 2007, including many of Shakespeare’s comedies. During the pandemic, CTL presented online productions for WeHo: the 1927 Mae West-penned The Drag and Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. I had a terrific experience as an actor in both plays.
The Romantics, (Les Romanesques) the original material for the 1960 musical The Fantasticks, is the third comedy I have directed for WeHo. In 2019, I directed The Last Days of Don Juan by Tirso de Molina, and in 2016, The Country Wife, by William Wycherley. Comedy and laughter tends to bring people together and CTL always proposes a production that will appeal to the WeHo community and entertain audiences of all ages.
What do you think is the role of the classics in today’s world?
The classics can still provide timeless, universal themes about life and the world around us and can often be molded to fit an artistic vision. Whether it’s the eternal struggle of good vs. evil, the inevitability of death, tragic love, or the corruptive nature of power, classic themes attempt to examine enduring truths about the way humanity behaves. The classics also give some insight about how life was lived in the past. Although life has changed, certain things stay the same: people continue to suffer loss, hardship, self-doubt and societal conflicts.
The Suppliants, a 2,500 year-old Greek tragedy about a group of refugees who seek asylum in the city of Argos from forced marriage and violence, is being presented this summer. It features professional actors and a chorus of Ukrainian citizens to help frame global discussions about the War in Ukraine and the unique challenges now faced by the people of Ukraine and those who support them. I think this is an important example of how a classic play continues to be relevant and a catalyst for powerful discussions.
How is directing classics—even lesser-known plays or twists on classics—different from directing contemporary plays?
The main difference between classical and contemporary theater is structure. Classical theater follows a very precise pattern (units of time, action and place), while contemporary theater allows for more freedom for the director. There is also a diversity of styles and forms based on the period in which the play was written that directors were expected to adhere to in the past.
Today, there are no rules for directors and they may bring their unique vision to a production, using more imaginative storytelling techniques to break from traditional expectations. In The Romantics, a 19th-century romance with stunning period costumes, we are juxtaposing this sweet story with contemporary music of the Beatles and other well-known artists.
I was sad to learn that Romantics playwright Edmond Rostand (who also wrote Cyrano de Bergerac) died in 1918 from the Spanish Flu. How do you think the Covid-19 pandemic has affected theater in Los Angeles, such as theater companies’ selection of repertoire, audience attendance, and the rise in outdoor theater productions?
A recent Los Angeles Times article claimed LA theater is slow to recover from the pandemic and that audiences are down to about 50% of pre-pandemic levels. Yet I recently attended several intimate theatre productions where houses were full and audiences were very enthusiastic to be back in the theater. These plays were mostly comedies. I feel that after the pandemic, comedy is essential and can play a key role in helping us to recover. Laughter is a communal activity that can enhance our sense of physical and mental well-being. We hope our comedy will bring laughter and enjoyment to our audiences in Kings Road Park.
What’s something audiences should look for in the performance of The Romantics at Kings Road Park?
Our cast includes amazing talents from the Classical Theatre Lab where I have served as an Artistic Coordinator since 2011. Audiences will enjoy our stunning period costumes, the beautiful singing voices of our actors, an exciting sword fight, and lots of clowning to make for a fun and energetic outdoor theatre experience.
The Romantics runs Sept. 10–25 on Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00pm in Kings Road Park, 1000 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood. Running time is 75 minutes with no Intermission. The show is free, but donations are welcome. Reservations are recommended; click here.