Summer Fun Guide 2014: Classic Park

Cleveland Shakespeare Festival takes the bard's most popular love story to high school.

Romeo goes emo, Juliet becomes the class sweetheart and Mercutio does a gender swap in artistic director Tyson Douglas Rand's version of the classic play for this summer's Cleveland Shakespeare Festival.

Set in modern times, Rand's Romeo and Juliet is filled with teenage angst, school rivalries and competing cliques. "Reading the play," Rand says, "it's apparent that these kids are very young — 14, it says — so these are high school kids, and I thought about what that would look like in modern times."

As the story goes, a poetry-writing Romeo falls in love with Juliet, the nice, popular girl at the top of her class. As a public school kid, Romeo's not supposed to fall in love with private school-educated Juliet. "There's a bit of a class struggle apparent," says Rand.

Envision Romeo in a hoodie and riding a skateboard, pining over the unfairness of life and the high school's "it" girl. Mercutio, Romeo's like-a-sister female friend, deals with her unrequited love for her best friend with aggression. Instead of traditional sword play, brawls will be won by fist, and Elizabethan-era garb is traded for jeans and T-shirts.

So, sure, this sounds like every teen movie love triangle. But you've not seen it like this before: performed free of charge outdoors July 18-20 in Coventry's Peace Park and July 25-27 and Aug. 2 and 3 in Tremont's Lincoln Park. "The open-air feel of doing it in the park is very raw and focuses on the acting and the story rather than the theater," Rand says.

In addition, A Midsummer's Night Dream, directed by Dusten Welch, kicks off the festival June 6-29 at 11 venues, including the James A. Garfield National Historic Site, Tri-C Western Campus and the Penitentiary Glen Reservation's amphitheater. Eight actors will perform a traditional trunk show version of this Shakespeare classic where each actor plays at least two parts. "This is our way of getting people to reconnect," Rand says. "This is how we keep a sense of community alive."

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