‘Juliet & Romeo’ Colors Outside the Lines – Gives Fresh Look to Shakespeare Classic

The difference between actors and great actors is often evident in the level of understanding they have of the meaning of their dialogue. A good actor will say the words with accuracy and rehearsed emotion; a great actor will make you feel the meaning of each and every word.

Take foreign films, for instance. On rare occasions you’ll witness an actor whose performance transcends language. In these extraordinary cases you don’t need subtitles or dubbed voices to understand what the character means.


The language of William Shakespeare can be beautiful or painful to experience depending on if the actors really understand the meaning of the words they are tasked with conveying.

Jay Geller is the head of the theatre department at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, IL. He runs a very strong program that balances school productions during the year and professional productions in the summer.

Geller is an excellent director who understands the many nuances of putting on great theatre. He is a master of working with his performers on character development and making sure all the actors work together like a well oiled machine. He also has a fantastic sense of creativity to instill new life into the scripts he directs.

Geller is a director who makes sure his actors know the meaning of every word they deliver. He accepts no good tries, only successful application.

Now playing through March 19, The Black Box Theatre at McHenry County College is presenting Juliet & Romeo, an adaptation of the Shakespeare classic Romeo & Juliet in which the gender power structure is reversed. Instead of being Romeo Montague pursuing Juliet Capulet, we have Juliet Montague falling in love with Romeo Capulet.

I love to see fresh takes on storied tales. I’ve been excited about seeing Juliet & Romeo ever since Geller first announced the concept. The script was adapted by Geller and Ted Hazelgrove, who is a writing and literature instructor at the college.


From the show’s opening, it is clear that Geller has not disappointed with how he has prepared his actors, most of them students at MCC but also featuring some local favorites. Geller has instilled in his performers the importance of their words and a clear understanding of how to deliver their dialogue with well-timed emotions.

Isabella Aguilar and Nathan Bodecker head the cast as the play’s central lovers. I applaud them both for the bravery to pioneer such different versions of their characters. Yet, don’t expect a different story. The themes of young love are still as vibrant as ever, just with Juliet being the pursuer with Romeo as the apple of her eye.

Aguilar provides a true knockout performance. She totally gets the character – a new hybrid of traditional Juliet with the modern twist of reciting dialogue originally written for a male actor.

“What light through yonder window breaks…” is one of the most identifiable of Shakespeare’s speeches. The speech is normally said by Romeo as he gazes up at Juliet in her balcony. For Juliet & Romeo, it is Aguilar who voices this famous monologue – and she nails it, totally making it her own. It is an incredible delivery.

Bodecker as Romeo Capulet has the challenge of reciting words originally meant for a 14-year-old girl, but must do so without letting them sound effeminate. He is a handsome young man with an expressive face and earnest delivery. At no point is there any question of his masculinity. His Romeo is a strong counterpart to Aguilar’s groundbreaking Juliet.


One of the strongest performances in the new version of this Shakespeare classic is Torie Mertens as Lady Capulet. In Romeo & Juliet, the character is a domineering father. In Juliet & Romeo, Mertens is every bit as filled with intimidating force as the domineering head of the Capulet family. Despite being the smallest person on stage at the time, her sheer power and intensity sends shivers down the spines of her son Romeo and her husband.

Also providing a fantastic character is Maggie Liston as Juliet’s friend and confidant Benvolia. Her delivery would make Kenneth Branagh proud. She explores a whole range of emotions and excels at conveying the meaning of the words she delivers.

Tracey Lanman is very good as Friar Lawrence, who is charged with helping Juliet & Romeo to join in union. I particularly enjoyed her use of comedic undertones. Lanman is always a joy to watch.

Skye Schoen also provides some really nice moments as Romeo’s Nurse. This is Schoen’s first acting role since recently graduating high school and he shows a lot of great potential. I look forward to seeing him grow as an actor.

Also in the cast are Monica Hauschild, Anastasia Correra, Erin Liston, Greg Waldyn, Trinity Anderson, Addie Keller, Angel Zuhlke, Emma Himley, Olivia Greenwald, Cody Klimek, and Angel Zuhlke.


Costumes by Carol Foreman are simple, but effective – adding just the right touch. The set by Eric Luchen works well.

While there will always be room for mounting the classics in their traditional form, there is something to be said for coloring outside the lines. Sometimes that’s how you end up with the prettiest pictures. As the late Harry Chapin put it, “There are so many colors in the rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun, so many colors in a flower and I see every one.”

Geller and his performers use every color in the rainbow to bring Juliet & Romeo to life. It’s a brilliant concept that features well-prepared performers and some of the most exquisite dialogue in the annals of theatrical history.

The play does contain moments of violence and the subject of suicide, but nothing overly shocking.

Juliet & Romeo runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through March 19. The Black Box Theatre is located in Building E on the McHenry County College campus at 8900 Route 14 in Crystal Lake, IL.

For ticket reservations call (815) 455-8746 or email jgeller@mchenry.edu.

 Peace. Love. Trust.

Rikki Lee Travolta


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  1. I had the pleasure of reviewing this production and agree with you! I was delighted and impressed all the way through. Let’s face it-Shakespeare ain’t easy!

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