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Shakespeare’s Star-Crossed Lovers Come to Boston Common

CFA alum stars in Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet

The temperature in Boston is about to heat up, thanks in part to the arrival of history’s most star-crossed lovers. The nonprofit Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (CSC) production of Romeo & Juliet opens tonight on the Boston Common and runs through Sunday, August 6, starring John Zdrojeski (CFA’12) as Romeo and Graycyn Mix as Juliet. All performances are free and open to the public.

One of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, Romeo & Juliet, set in 16th-century Verona, is the story of two feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets. Despite their decades-old enmity, when Juliet Capulet and Romeo Montague meet at a ball, they quickly fall in love and marry. Suffice it to say, their lives end tragically. As Prince Escalus of Verona notes at play’s end, “For never was a story of more woe/Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Only after their deaths do the warring families agree to make peace.

Shakespeare’s tale of doomed young love remains one of the bard’s most frequently produced plays, endlessly adapted for screen, television, and more than two-dozen operas. It also was the inspiration for the musical West Side Story.

Zdrojeski calls his part “a dream come true.” He auditioned in May, at the end of his second of a three-year NYU MFA program. A friend had been cast as Mercutio and Zdrojeski emailed the CSC “out of the blue” to ask if he could send a taped audition. Artistic director Steven Maler asked him to audition in person with Mix, already cast as Juliet. “About 80 percent of the reason I was cast in this was because Graycyn just gives you so much when you’re acting across from her,” he says.

Zdrojeski credits his BU mentor Mark Cohen, a College of Fine Arts assistant professor, with believing he could play the role. Cohen, who had twice cast him as Romeo at BU. “had more faith in my ability to do it than I did, which is a testament to his gifts as a teacher,” he says. The day before the audition, he told his girlfriend, “I don’t know this guy at all and have no feeling for him.” Her advice: just audition from a place of “not knowing what to do.” Zdrojeski says that really opened him up for me, working from a place of not knowing what will happen.”

John Zdrojeski as Romeo and Brandon Green as Benvolio

John Zdrojeski as Romeo (foreground) and Brandon Green as Benvolio in the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s Romeo & Juliet.

Having lived with the character intensely for the past six weeks, he says that what attracted him to the play is that it’s a coming of age story in which his character undergoes a transformation.

“Romeo starts the play off as a boy,” he says. “He’s kind of a moper. He doesn’t really know how to articulate his feelings in a way, and Juliet allows him to grow up and take ownership of himself and his love for her so that by the play’s end, he’s a man.”

The Wethersfield, Conn., native was bitten by the acting bug when cast in a second grade play about the solar system. “I just thought it was really cool that you could get people to clap for you,” he says. Being cast as Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at Loomis Chaffee School whetted his appetite for acting.

Zdrojeski says he was drawn to BU by the theater program’s reputation. The deal was cemented after he came to BU’s Summer Theatre Institute in high school, where he was introduced to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a role at the top of his wish list. “It was pretty much love at first sight with BU,” he says. He cut his teeth on such roles as John Hinckley in Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins at the BU Theatre and the sociopath Assef in a theatrical adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner at the New Repertory Theater.

“Regardless of where my career takes me, I’m going to spend the rest of my life thanking my lucky stars I got to study at Boston University,” the actor says.

He is excited that so many of his BU teachers now have a chance to see him perform. “When Mark Cohen comes to see Romeo,” he says. “I just want to make him proud.”

Among other BU alums and faculty involved in the production are Julia Noulin-Mérat (MET’06, CFA’08), scenic design, Neil Fortin (CFA’14), costume design, and David Remedios, a CFA assistant professor, sound design.

The CSC production of Romeo & Juliet runs through August 6 at the Boston Common’s Parkman Bandstand, across from the AMC Loews Boston Common on Tremont Street. Find performance dates and times here. Admission is free, although donations are encouraged. Chair rentals are $5 plus a $5 deposit. Weather may delay or cancel a performance; for performance nights updates, call the CSC weather hotline at 781-239-5972. Take the MBTA Green or Red Line to Park Street or the Orange Line to Chinatown and Downtown Crossing.

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john o'rourke, editor, bu today
John O’Rourke

John O’Rourke can be reached at orourkej@bu.edu.

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