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Collaboration produces fresh take on Romeo and Juliet

By : Rachel Coker

Theatre students at Binghamton are immersed in a unique cultural experience this semester as they prepare to stage an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the style of the Beijing Opera.

Leanne Mercadante, a senior theatre major from Latham, plays Juliet. She said her previous training at Binghamton taught her to learn roles “from the inside out,” to understand a character’s inner life before deciding on outward characteristics. This production, with its precise choreography, has challenged that method.

“Usually, you find the heart and then you find the form,” she said. “Here, you find the form and then you find the heart.”

Lee Garrett, a senior from Staten Island, plays Romeo. He agreed that the exaggerated, representational approach to the play has challenged him as an actor.
Garrett, an English major and theatre minor, participated in a special workshop last semester that focused on Beijing Opera techniques and jumped at a chance to put them to use on stage. “The style immediately intrigued me,” he said. “It’s beautiful.”

Ah Hil Kim, a sophomore economics major from Saipan, plays Tybalt. He believes acting will help him professionally because

Leanne Mercadante, playing Juliet, and Lee Garrett, playing Romeo, rehearse in the FA-Watters Theater for the upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet, to be done in the style of the Bejing Opera.
he’ll be better able to understand people of different backgrounds and experiences.

“Acting forces the actor to think about the character’s life and feel it inside,” he said.

Kim, whose first language is Korean, faced a double language barrier during rehearsals. Visiting director Chen Lincang of the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts in Beijing does not speak English. Chen has relied on help from interpreter Su “Sophie” Feng as well as adjunct faculty member Andy Horowitz to communicate with the 25-member cast as well as the crew.

Brian Goldblatt of Syracuse, a master’s student, is stage manager for the production. He said he knew the language, cultural and aesthetic differences between Chen and his American counterparts would be challenging. But Goldblatt also expected the production would offer an incredible learning experience, and he said it hasn’t disappointed in that regard.

Goldblatt said the moment when Romeo and Juliet first kiss can still make his eyes well up with tears.

Katie Lenhardt, a sophomore comparative literature/Chinese major from Horseheads, is in the ensemble. She was drawn to the production because it offers an opportunity to soak up Chinese culture. Lenhardt s

Lee Garrett, playing Romeo, and Ah Hil Kim, playing Tybalt, rehearse in the FA-Watters Theater.
aid Chinese poetry takes one idea and then decorates it. Chen, who hasn’t previously worked with Shakespeare, works in much that way, Lenhardt said.

Mercadante said she had prepared monologues from the play for classes before, but finds this adaptation has something new to offer. “For me, it feels like enormous shoes to fill,” she said. “There have been so many Juliets, so many ways to do this.”

Garrett said the Chinese approach to the play makes even the most familiar sections feel fresh.

“To me,” he said, “it’s a new creation.”

“And that’s the point,” Mercadante said.

If You Go

Romeo and Juliet will be performed at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, April 25-26 and May 2-3 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 4, in FA-Watters Theater. Admission is $14 for the general public, $12 for faculty, staff and seniors and $8 for students and children. For tickets, call 777-ARTS or visit

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Last Updated: 10/14/08