Indiana State University Newsroom

A modern ‘Romeo and Juliet’ opens June 28

June 14, 2019

A timely update to a Shakespearean classic will be staged as Crossroads Repertory Theatre presents "Romeo and Juliet" starting June 28 at Indiana State University.

It's 2032 Verona, Ohio: The Capulets and the Montagues have been feuding as long as anyone can remember, and there is always the threat of violence. But this time it's not just a family fight, said director and Indiana State alumna Lauren Morris, '01. It's a global conflict that has caused death and destruction and left people deeply scarred.

"It's about ‘the other.' It's about us versus them. We live in a time when that feeling is very, very real and very, very personal and very, very dangerous," Morris said. "Romeo and Juliet is a great lens through which to look at that."

In a streamlined version of the classic, they've raised the stakes and trimmed the text to a 90-minute running time. "We have set the play in the not-so-far-away future with the idea of what if our current political polarization led to actual war," Morris said. "What would that world look like after the war was over? How would we try to find our way forward through those deep-seated resentments and hatred of the other side?"

The civil war lasted a decade, and we're in Verona two years later - enough time to have passed so that a person's every thought is not just about survival. "Some semblance of society has returned, enough that the Capulets are thinking of arranging a marriage for their daughter," she said.

But because of the war's destruction, there are no cars, no phones, no modern infrastructure that could aid communication between the star-crossed lovers. The production's design draws on this primitive state without resorting to familiar icons, colors or themes that could alienate audience members.

"(The characters) find items from the past and use what they have to make it their own - that idea of down-cycling, but also personalizing," Morris said. "Each family can represent a side without being so on-the-nose about it."

In addition to portraying the consequences of political polarization, the production takes a look at gender. Classic male roles - Romeo's friend Mercutio, Romeo's cousin Benvolio and Prince Escalus - will be portrayed by women.

Susan Monts-Bologna as Prince is wonderfully effective. "I wanted there to be a unifying matriarchal force that was trying to make these two sides behave," Morris said. "I needed her to be someone powerful, and Susan is exactly that person. Her Prince is this wise woman who has been appointed by the coalition government after the war to lead this community."

The relationship between Mercutio and Benvolio is also a triumph, added Assistant Director Jenna Houchin, a student at Indiana State. "Their energy is such a strong force that we're used to in real life - being surrounded by strong women - but on the stage in Shakespeare we're not always able to see that demonstrated perfectly," Houchin said.

Further, Morris seeks to refute the stereotype that Juliet is a weak and swooning girl. "She has a ton of agency in this play. She is pulling the strings in a lot of scenes to make people do what she wants," Morris said. "Without her audacious bravery and courage, none of it would happen. She defies her family. She is willing to take this weird potion and lie in a mausoleum with dead people. Shakespeare is showing us we underestimate girls."

The story may have been written in pre-1600s, but Shakespeare's message is timeless, as he is a master of understanding human nature, Morris said.

"The whole point of the play - what Shakespeare was trying to say and still stands so true - is that love is the way forward," Morris said. "Love is a complicated thing. You may not always agree (with the person you love). In spite of those things, we can work to recognize the core goodness of the person across from us. Unfortunately, in ‘Romeo and Juliet,' some beautiful young people have to die for us to see that."

Morris is an Atlanta-based theater maker who has worked as an actor and director in Indianapolis (Indiana Repertory Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Children's Theatre Institute, Lily Theatre, Shawnee Theatre, Brown County Playhouse, HART/Indy Shakes), before completing her MBA/MFA at Cal State Long Beach and working as a managing director at the Long Beach Playhouse and Georgia Shakespeare. In addition to her work with Crossroads Rep, she currently works with Horizon Theatre Company, Théâtre du Rêve and Reforming Arts in Atlanta. Last fall, she was one of 70 directors from across the globe to attend the Lincoln Center Director's Lab in New York City.

The Osgood, Ind., native's first professional job was at Crossroads Rep - a "tiny walk-on role" in "Streetcar Named Desire" as well as several backstage crew assignments during Gary Stewart's tenure.

"That was my very first job, and now this is my career," she said. "I believe very strongly in this blending of professional actors, designers, directors with the students and giving them an opportunity to be in a professional environment and learn what that's about in a safe place. It's a magical thing that's been going on for a long time, and I feel really fortunate to still be a part of it."

"Romeo and Juliet" runs at 7:30 p.m. June 28-29, July 11-12 and 3 p.m. June 29-30 at New Theater on the Indiana State campus.

Flex passes of four tickets, which are good for any show, are $64 each, and single-production tickets are $16-20 for general admission. For more information about this summer's season or to buy tickets, go to or call the box office at 812-237-3333.


Photo: -- Jo Garcia-Reger and Elijah Hendricks rehearse "Romeo and Juliet," which runs at 7:30 p.m. June 28-29, July 11-12 and 3 p.m. June 29-30 at New Theater on the Indiana State campus.

Media contact: David Marcia, instructor, department of theater, Indiana State University,