Michael Goldsmith talks about playing Romeo in Folger Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Aaron Posner.
DCMetroTheaterArts’ reviewer Emily Caio wrote in her review of the show that this production of Romeo and Juliet is “an amalgamation of modern acting and old-school style, it’s as though Ireland of the 1800s met the hipster culture of today.” Is she right? How would you describe Aaron Posner’s vision for this production?
Aaron definitely wanted a clear divide between the young people and the older generation in this show. We talked a lot about how the Verona of the play is this incredibly violent society and that Romeo and Juliet are in some ways opting out of the violence of this world. Their falling in love is a repudiation of the world they grew up in—and you see that reflected in the more modern dress and contemporary rhythms of our characters.
Have you played Romeo before? What makes your performance different, exciting, and new?
This is my first Romeo. What I’m trying to do every night is bust through the tired concept of Romeo as this perfect romantic lover. I hope my Romeo reads as a complete person who’s been, up to this point in his life, horrendously unlucky in love—someone with the capacity to yo-yo between being profoundly depressed one second and happier than he’s ever been the next, who’s got a complicated relationship with the world he lives in. And I take great pleasure in making him a little bit weird.
How did you develop the chemistry that is needed for you to capture the innocence, frustration, and passion of Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other?
Erin Weaver’s a brilliant actress and a great pal. From the start it was clear that we’d be comfortable with each other physically. The chemistry onstage comes from us playing that “this is the first time we’ve ever touched/kissed/been bowled over by someone” almost to the point of incapacitation—no easy feat when you’re on your ninth show of the week, but I feel so safe with her and I think that lets us go where we need to go.
What were the biggest challenges you had preparing for your role, and what were some of the suggestions that Aaron gave you on playing Romeo and dealing with these challenges?
It was super important to me to not trivialize the pain that that Romeo’s in at the beginning of this play—this is someone who’s been knocked around and is constantly dealing with enormous tidal waves of feelings—and it took me a while to marry my commitment to dealing honestly with Romeo’s dark side with the fact that the first half of this play is essentially a comedy. Aaron had to tell me on a number of occasions to lighten up.
How does the design of the show enhance the production and help tell the story?
The design is great because it keeps things simple and puts the focus squarely on the story we’re telling.
What makes your Romeo different than other portrayals of him that you have seen in other productions?
All I can do is play the Romeo that makes sense to me. Like a lot of people I’ve seen R&J a bunch and have opinions about it, but once I’m in the rehearsal room my Romeo is a product of collaborating with Aaron and our amazing cast, and whatever instincts pop out of my brain. That said, I’m thrilled if people see the show and are surprised by what I’m doing—as far as I can get away from the image of Romeo as an idealized, perfect trophy boyfriend, the better. This is someone who’s failed miserably at love at the start of the play—he’s no smooth operator—and he kind of needs Juliet to help him along. If people find that take fresh, then great.
How do you relate to your character and what personal experiences did you draw upon when you were molding your performance?
Like most people I’ve got some heartbreak banked up. I have a harder time wrapping my head around Romeo’s impulsiveness, but it’s such a privilege to explore a character who has such a different emotional response to things than I would—making Romeo make sense every night is an amazing, exciting challenge. He’s also a lot like my college roommate which helps.
What are some of your favorite comments that audience members have said to you after the show?
When you’ve got a bus full of schoolkids rolling down the windows and yelling, “Romeo” at you after a student matinee that’s a pretty singular experience. Also, this very nice lady told me I should play Hamlet which would be pretty sweet.
You are working with such a talented cast. What do you admire most about their performances and working with them?
Everyone’s so good in this show and bringing so many fresh ideas to the table. We all come from different backgrounds and it’s such privilege to see the variety of ways people work to build their performances. I think it creates an exciting tension onstage.
I love the dynamic that’s developed between me, Brad Koed (Mercutio) and Aaron Bliden (Benvolio)–we’re this strange little band of brothers.
Which scenes that you are not in do you love watching and are your favorites?
What Shannon Koob (Lady Capulet) and Erin Weaver are doing with their mother/daughter relationship is so complex and interesting and sad. It’s a real treat to watch.
What’s next for you on the stage?
After this I’m back to pounding the pavement on the mean streets of New York. We’ll see if anyone’s buying what I’m selling!
Why should audiences rush to buy tickets to see Romeo and Juliet at Folger Theatre?
We’re doing something really interesting and treating this story with the complexity it deserves.
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Romeo and Juliet plays through December 1, 2013 at Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library—201 East Capitol Street, SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 544-7077, or purchase them online.
Emily Cao’s review of Romeo and Juliet on DCMetroTheaterArts.