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Davis

Davis, California

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Wherefore art thou, Romeo? Davis!

Romeo and Juliet, the original romantic comedy, is coming to UC Davis’ Arboretum thanks to a new group on campus, the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble. Performances will be held Sept. 17 to 19 and 23 to 26 at 8 p.m. in the Arboretum Gazebo. Tickets are $5 for students.

Director Rob Salas has helmed shows at Harvard University, DAT in New York, UC Irvine, New Village Arts in San Diego, the South Coast Repertory and the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Romeo and Juliet will be the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble’s first-ever production. Salas said he is confident that the show will be a success.

“Though it’s our first show, we’re experienced, confident and will impress our audience with a high level of skill and execution,” he said.

The company boasts cast members from the UC Davis Theater department and Studio 301, which last year performed Hair and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Some noteworthy cast members include Gia Batista, Steph Hankinson and Salas himself. Michael Lutheran, the ensemble’s publicity manager, said that the three are the core of the new group.

One of Shakespeare’s most beloved and well-known works, Romeo and Juliet was an obvious choice for the Shakespeare Ensemble’s first performance. Salas said he believes most people can connect to the love story and Shakespeare’s expertly crafted characters.

“The play will always endure as a performance,” he said. “Not only does the study of love resonate in a live performance, but its beautiful poetry, hilarious characters and possibly the best fight scenes ever written will always make it a great show for any theater company to produce.”

Impressed by the dedication and skill of the company, the Arboretum directors agreed to co-produce the production.

“It was the first project done jointly with the company, and we really enjoyed working with them,” said Elaine Fingerett, Arboretum academic coordinator.

The Arboretum’s Gazebo proved to be an ideal setting for Shakespeare’s classic tale. Surrounded by moon flowers, the Gazebo provides an enchanting setting for the two star-crossed lovers to profess their eternal love.

“The Gazebo is wonderfully romantic, and [director] Rob was actually inspired by the location,” Fingerett said. “The Arboretum is really thrilled and excited to bring live theater of this caliber to our public garden.”

The romantic atmosphere also meant that the performance space would be more intimate. The venue only accommodates 70 people per show. The Ensemble specifically chose to sacrifice space in order to make it more accessible to students.

“This is one of the many exciting ways people can have a relationship with the Arboretum,” Fingerett said.

The show will offer a new feature not commonly seen in the play: a very truncated cast.

“The cast size is one element that will make our Romeo and Juliet unique,” Salas said. “We decided to cast only seven actors who will assume one to three roles each. Each actor’s multiple roles make sense for the storytelling, and I think it will shine a new light on some characters.”

Salas said the high point of the play is the death scene of the feuding rivals Mercutio and Tybalt.

“This is when the two plots of the Romeo and Juliet (the marriage and the rivalry) converge, and the messy result is what shapes the tragic end.”

Salas added, “The actor playing Mercutio in our show, Mark Ferrando, is doing a spectacular job so far and I am sure he will deliver a memorable performance.”

Even though Romeo and Juliet is considered by some to be one of the most intricate and complicated stories to portray, rehearsals have gone smoothly. Salas said the most challenging aspect of the play is the fight scenes.

“Our fight choreographer, Gabe Rosa, is a very experienced martial artist, and he is working hard to make these fights as epic as possible,” Salas said. “It’s going to result in some awesome fight scenes.”

BRITTANY PEARLMAN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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