The centuries-old feud between the Montagues and Capulets will come to the stage at Maspeth High School next week.
“Romeo and Juliet,” like most Shakespeare, can be a challenging play for even seasoned pros. But Eric Young, the director and MHS’s theater teacher, believes that neither his cast, nor its audience, should have to settle for anything less than the best on opening night.
“We did ‘Macbeth’ last year, and set it in the 1930s,” Young said during a rehearsal last Thursday. “We will do some contemporary things, but one of the aims of this school is to instruct students in the classics.”
About 30 students are participating, including cast and crew. Most of the sets are being constructed on-site, and some are being painted by MHS art students.
And from minute tinkering to the positioning of actors on stage to bringing in a professional combat choreographer, no detail is being overlooked.
“We want the audience to see a professional show,” Young said.
The director, who trained in the theater and acted professionally for several years before getting his master’s degree as an instructor, started the program “from the ground up,” last year with “Macbeth.”
Even contemporary themes and language can be challenging for students who might not have exposure to live theater, he said — both those on stage and those in the audience.
“We live only miles from Broadway, but a lot of students have only seen television and movies,” he said.
The actors said the archaic English of Shakespeare’s time doth require a small adjustment. But Cody Chiarotti, who plays Romeo, said it is a necessary one.
“You can’t just memorize lines,” Chiarotti said. “You have to know what you’re saying.”
And, as sometimes happens on Broadway, Young was forced to make a casting change on extremely short notice when the student playing the Nurse would be unable to continue. Last Thursday’s rehearsal also served as an opportunity to block scenes with Jessica Alejandro in the role.
Chiarotti and Anthony Loyola, who plays Friar Lawrence, are sophomores who appeared in “Macbeth” last year.
And of course, experienced or not, everyone’s a high schooler. At one point during a recent rehearsal, Young needed to rein in some extracurricular activity and conversation.
“We have a show opening in two weeks,” he called out from the auditorium floor during blocking for Act I.
“You get excited and a little tense as you get closer to opening night, but not nervous,” Chiarotti said. Andrea Papp, who portrays Juliet, is in her first show.
“I’m going to be nothing but nervous,” she said.
Loyola predicted that anyone’s first-night jitters will pass quickly.
“When you come out afterward and take your curtain call, and the people are cheering, there’s nothing like it,” he said.
When: Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, at 7 p.m.
Where: Maspeth HS, 54-40 70 St.
Tickets: $7 adults; $5 students.
mhstheater.org, (718) 803-7100