Contributed photo/ John SinclairAbove: A scene of the star-crossed lovers in Island Stage Left’s upcoming show.

Romeo and Juliet: Shakespeare Under the Stars

“Romeo and Juliet,” the ultimate story of young love gone wrong will be performed in venues through out the islands, as Stage Left opens its 18th annual Shakespeare “under the stars.”

“For most audiences and certainly for actors, it is the language of love that moves us and holds us in its embrace,” said Helen Machin-Smith, founder of Stage Left, explaining what it is about Romeo and Juliet that keeps audience goers returning time and time again to this particular play. Stage Left opens on Orcas Island at Doe Bay Resort, July 6, Lopez Vineyard (tickets required, 468-3644) the 8 and 9, Shaw Island Community Center July 10, Roche Harbor July 14-16, 21-24, and July 27-31. Beginning Aug. 5 – 21, Friday through Sunday, the play will be at 1062 Wold Rd. Friday Harbor. Shows in all venues begins at 8 p.m. and are free with a suggested donation of $20.

“Romeo and Juliet” was chosen for Stage Lefts 18th birthday in part because audiences love it. The tragedy is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, according to Machin-Smith, and has been translated into several languages around the world.

“There are parallels to the story of doomed love on opposite sides of conflict, all around us, and the depiction of young love has never been so beautifully written,” she said, adding that many quotes from “Romeo and Juliet” have become a part of western culture’s common heritage, like “I am fortunes fool!”

Shakespeare had the uncanny ability to capture the human condition which keep his plays relevant.

“It doesn’t matter what time [the play] is set in, we recognize the story,” Machin-Smith said.

She also pointed out that nearly all Shakespeare’s plays are based on someone else’s story. He added characters, changed plot lines and filled out the tale, often resulting in plays packed with English characters with Italian names. “Romeo and Juliet” is based on a poem written by Arthur Brooke in 1562, according to Machin-Smith, which in turn was based on an Italian novelette by Matteo Bandeldlo.

“There have been too many versions of the story to recount!”Machin-Smith said.

Though this will be Stage Left’s second rendition of “Romeo and Juliet,” the latest showing will be distinct in its own right, due to the director’s vision and a new cast.

“Most of all it is the ensemble of actors which changes a production,” Machin-Smith said. “Every actor brings their own imagination and experience to their role.”

Not only will the cast be different from the previous performance, but for the first time since Stage Left was born, Machin-Smith is not directing. She has handed over the reigns to Cassandra Boice, a director from Portland, Ore.

“She has done a great job with the play, setting it in modern dress in an American environment,” Machin-Smith said, adding that two musicians, Trevor Wheetman and Sylvie Davidson (who plays Juliet) bring a new layer to the play. Wheetman and Davidson will be sporadically playing their music around Friday Harbor prior to the shows.

Since Stage Left opened with “The Tempest” those 18 years ago, islanders have lined up, picnic baskets, blankets and sleeping bags in tow, waiting to be transported into Shakespeare’s world.

“(Shakespeare)speaks to us with such timeless wisdom about our strengths and weaknesses … with such deep understanding and evocative imagery that we learn something more about ourselves every time we listen to him,” Machin-Smith said, “and we take away a deeper understanding of the human condition.”

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