[CUA Office of Public Affairs]

Oct. 13, 2000

CUA and Howard Students Join to Perform ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Production Explores Meeting of African and European cultures

The timeless tragedy of "Romeo and Juliet" will be portrayed by an interracial cast of Catholic University and Howard University students this fall, for a vision of Shakespeare’s classic set in medieval West Africa.

The play, co-produced with Howard University, will be staged in Catholic University’s Hartke Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2, through Saturday, Nov. 4, and at Howard University’s Ira Aldridge Theater at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, through Saturday, Nov. 11, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12.

Thespians from the historically black Howard University will play Juliet’s family, the Capulets, traditionalist natives of West Africa. Romeo and his Italian clan of Montagues will be portrayed by CUA actors. Professors, staff and students from both universities are serving as dramaturg, director, set designer, costume designer and crew.

Howard Theater Arts Professor Mark Jolin is directing.

The tale departs fair Verona of Shakespeare’s original work for the Songhai Empire of medieval Timbuktu, circa 1500, where the doomed lovers’ alliance forms amidst trade between the Italians and the Songhais.

Shifting the play’s setting isn’t a new approach, producers say. But this production of the Bard’s classic will explore various juxtapositions and cultural melding-points that marked the period of the Renaissance and the birthing of a new entity that would come to be known as "the Atlantic world," according to Dramaturg Sybil Roberts, a CUA alumna and professor at Howard University.

This production of "Romeo and Juliet" ponders the possibilities of what might have occurred in the encounters of medieval Africa and Europe as symbolized by the two royal families and their coterie. In the play, even in the violent collision of cultures, the ability of two young people from vastly different worlds to find a space for love demonstrates the potential power of all cultural and human interactions.

"The ‘explorations’ of 15th century Spanish and Portuguese would forever alter the way in which Europeans, Africans and indigenous

Americans would see themselves and engage each other," Roberts writes in her production notes. "As Europe was experiencing a Renaissance and was exploring new trends in art, education and science, medieval Africa was flourishing and had long been making innovations in all the aforementioned areas that were well known by Arab traders, and by some Europeans. Meanwhile, members of African and European royalty were traversing the ocean to study at various universities both in Medieval Africa and Europe."

Using this history as backdrop, Roberts and director Mark Jolin designed their production of "Romeo and Juliet" to show how two teenagers, forced to negotiate social expectations, religious obligation and political necessity, come to represent forces greater than they ever imagined by a simple act of loving.

Students involved in the production said it’s been a cooperative learning experience between the two universities.

"We’ve both had equal shares in the production. The cast gets along and everyone is having fun," said Nathan Weinberger, a CUA senior from Silver Spring, Md., who plays Friar Laurence. When he first tried out for the production, "I thought this was going to be a West Side story thing. It actually turned out to be quite a bit more interesting than that," he said.

TICKET INFORMATION: General admission tickets are $15 at CUA and $12.50 at Howard; discounts and group rates are available. Call Hartke’s box office at 202-319-4000 or the Aldridge at 202-806-7700 for details.

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Revised: February 12, 2001

All contents copyright 2001.
The Catholic University of America,
Office of Public Affairs.