Directors Bonnie McCormick and Betty Kay Seibt took a gamble on the latest Shakespeare show staged by Denton Community Theatre.
The co-directors carefully cut the show to emphasize the action and characters in Romeo and Juliet. Then, they lifted it from Verona, Italy and set the famous play along the Texas-Mexico border in the 1700s.
Instead of the Capulets and Montagues battling it out between their Italian estates, the Montoyas and the Cordovas nurse a long-simmering feud as they build their empires with open range cattle operations.
“It came to me in a dream,” said Seibt. “Seriously. I saw the sheriff appear in Western clothes. I woke up and I thought, ‘Now that’s interesting.’ I thought about having one of the families having sheep while the other was an open range cattle deal.”
Seibt told McCormick her idea, and even suggested recasting Romeo Montoya as an immigrant. But that would change the text of the famous play to much.
“The play describes them as two families alike in dignity,” Seibt said. “Both families have to be on a equal footing that way.”
Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and produced plays. It follows the young lovers Romeo and Juliet as they defy their families’ wishes and marry in secret. Their union ends in a river of bloodshed and grief. With the desert and broad sky as a backdrop between the sprawling Cordova hacienda and the paved road to the Montoya ranch, Seibt and McCormick’s cast seem to observe an invisible boundary that separates the titan cattlemen. Boots, cowboy hats and great big blades replace swords and tights.
And for the cast, the nuances in the Bard’s most recognizable love story are as complex as life along the historical border.
“Whatever the generational conflict has been, by the time it’s gotten to us, we don’t want to keep it going anymore,” said Jared Wilson, who plays the role of Romeo’s childhood friend Benvolio. “Tybalt almost does it too much, this thing where he keeps the feud alive.”
Tybalt is the hotheaded cousin of Juliet, and is deeply invested in the Cordovas winning scores in the conflict. It’s Tybalt’s aggression that tips the first domino toward tragedy.
Dorian Carrillo plays the role of Mercutio, Romeo’s best friend and a black sheep of the Cordova clan.
“At first, Mercutio doesn’t really want to respond to Tybalt. He plays it off as a joke, almost,” Dorian Carrillo said. “But when Tybalt pushes it, it’s almost like Mercutio has to deal with a bully.”
Cyrus Carrillo, Dorian’s younger brother and the actor who plays Romeo, agreed with his brother and Wilson.
“Romeo is a pacifist. He doesn’t carry a knife around at all. After Tybalt stabs Mercutio, he has to use someone else’s knife,” Cyris Carrillo said. “Romeo doesn’t want this feud. And especially after he marries Juliet, he wants to keep the peace. That’s why he tells Tybalt he loves him more than he knows. But I definitely think Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio aren’t interested in the feud.”
Jessi Crouse, who plays the role of Juliet, said the play’s ingenue packs a lifetime of learning into a few days. Before she meets Romeo at the ball, Juliet is keen to be a dutiful daughter and ready to accept the marriage her father has arranged to Paris. Ultimately, she is torn between her duty to her family (not to mention her affections for her mercurial cousin, Tybalt) and her new passion for her lover and husband.
“I think secretly it bothers her. There’s a family feud and she doesn’t really know why,” Crouse said. “But when she meets Romeo, she starts to care about it.”
Romeo and Juliet opens this weekend.