The first time I was cast in this play, I was living in San Diego for the summer, studying and performing with the British-American Youth Festival Theater. It seems unremarkable now, in this age of instagrams and overflowing selfie caches, but for my younger self, this time of bonfires on the beach and glorious sunsets was revelatory. I believed wholeheartedly that it was a fleeting time, and that I was lucky to see and know it in those moments. I remember meeting other young people and feeling crippled with shyness and uncertainty. I remember raging hormones, and uninhibited, impulsive declarations of undying love and friendship. There were pool parties, and self-conscious posturing with fake-ID-purchased beer and cigarettes, and awkwardly fumbled attempts at connecting with one another, all of which perfectly dwindled away with the setting sun.
The second time I was cast in this play, I was just a couple years older, still green and arrogant with that gangly demeanor that young men have, unfinished, outclassed by nearly everyone I met. I made up for my ignorance with insufferably glib, dismissive prejudices. I was performing in the cold, unforgiving Theater Noir space, just a block away from where I write now, which is now a warehouse again. I was proud and scared, and just beginning to understand the impossibilities of being a conscientious artist in this time and place.
The third time I was cast in this play, I was more sure of myself, more seasoned. I learned to fight with a rapier and dagger, and I’ve never felt more alive in my body onstage.
The fourth time, I’d lost that self-assurance, and I was deeply unhappy in my job and in my choices, but trying to be braver, and true.
The fifth time, I was fleeing the end of another project, and taking up a role I’d already played, replacing another actor at the last minute, who had to leave the production for a medical emergency.
This is now my sixth encounter with this play. Throughout my life, the world of this play has been a surprisingly still center, a kind of home. I keep thinking I’ve left this play behind, only to encounter it again, picking up where I’d left off, picking me up off the ground. My love for this play has followed the trajectories of the characters I’ve played, and the trajectories of the versions of myself that I meet, like ghosts, every time I pick up the script. I’ve gone from dismissive, callow cynicism, to burning, passionate zeal, to wise, indulgent affection, to a sad, glowing ember of hopeful love, to all of it at once, and more.
I’m more aware now of how unfinished, how ignorant and stumble-prone a human I am. I believe that I keep returning to this play because, in some ways, my own inner life and values are deeply rooted in the questions this play seeks to answer. This play works when every artist on the team commits to the hilt, without holding back, willing to be cold and mosquito-bitten and ugly-crying in front of strangers, all for the sake of telling again the most well-known story, whose ending we’ve known since before we were born, but the feeling of it, so true and clear, so unavoidably present, like the ghosts in the cemetery who are our most loyal audiences, a feeling that pulls at our most weepingly joyful heart-roots, like the receding tide and the setting sun of those San Diego beaches of so long ago. I love it all so much.
Portland Actors Ensemble opens our 49th season with Romeo and Juliet, performing in the Lone Fir Cemetery at SE 26th and Stark. We perform every Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday at 7 pm. Erica Terpening directs a dizzyingly talented, diverse cast, including both beloved veterans of the Portland theater world, and some of the funniest, most incandescent n
ewcomers I’ve ever met. We open on Friday, July 6, and close on Sunday, July 29. Every performance is absolutely free. Bring a picnic blanket, folding chairs, and layers against this strangely changeable summer season. Visit our picnic partner’s website, tastofextasteofexcellencepdx.com, to pre-order picnic baskets, for sale by A Taste of Excellence catering!
The Lone Fir Cemetery is a unique, exciting and incomparable performance space. An itinerant, masterless-samurai performer to my core, nevertheless I wholeheartedly love being based in this place, and calling it a kind of home–particularly, the kind to which we will all return sooner or later. Theater, that most indulgent and illogical, most extreme example of ‘luxuriant’, useless, offensively insular art in the midst of a burning world, is made to become apt and grounded in a place where living history and forgotten history mingle, and not even the most socially-engaged, charitable, selfless, accomplished and active citizen can feel anything but humbled by the crumbling monuments, the timeless remove from the rest of our teeming lives, the whispering trees. With every performance in this space, I feel the piercing appraisal of these pioneers, these founding fathers, these firefighters, these forgotten prostitutes and asylum patients, these Russians. You really must come see.
With all my love from this ancient monument where all the kindred of the Capulets lie,