BWW Interviews: Talking Shakespeare With ROMEO & JULIET'S Christian Durso
Los Angeles native Christian Durso stars as Romeo in Great Lakes Theater's current production of ROMEO & JULIET at the intimate Hanna Theatre in downtown Cleveland. Shakespeare's enduring tale of love and loss runs through April 28th and is one that shouldn't be missed.
Trained at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts and The Old Globe, Durso is no stranger to the work of William Shakespeare. He has starred in over ten productions, including THE TEMPEST, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and MACBETH. Durso is also an accomplished playwright and has had several of his pieces produced by the IAMA Theatre Company in California.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Christian Durso a few questions about Shakespeare, a topic he is obviously passionate about …
What draws you to Shakespeare?
I honestly don't know what initially drew me to Shakespeare. I remember impulsively checking out a copy of HAMLET from the library when I was a little kid. I thumbed through it for a couple weeks and tried out some of the words. I couldn't make heads or tails of it at the time but I think I knew that there was something very powerful in my hands. I still feel that way when I open one of Shakespeare's plays. I have more tools at my disposal now to appreciate WHY I feel that power (the timeless stories, the spine-tingling poetry, the infinite possibilities) but the initial draw is still like the fascination of a little kid watching a passing train or a 747 take off.
What keeps me coming back is the language and the stories. They are both just so rich and funny and heartbreaking. You can spend your whole life digging into these texts and still find gems.
Shakespeare's work has lasted for centuries and, in many cases, is still relevant today. How do you think ROMEO & JULIET speaks to audiences in this day and age?
Love, Love, Love. The way it always has.
I can't say it enough: Love. It is the powerful and inexplicable part of the human condition that makes us get up in the morning and that which can drive us into temporary madness. We have all had our "balcony" scene at one point, or we at least hope for it. Certainly we've all imagined it. And we tend to dwell in that place of Love when we are very young, when it first presents itself to us and our world is forever changed. And because the emotion is so overwhelming, it seems that nothing can ever take it away. Juliet says, "My bounty is as boundless as the seas, / My love as deep: The more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite."
And even as I write Juliet's words, my eyes well up in tears. Because, of course, what comes with Love is the other thing that speaks to audiences today and in any day: Loss. We've all lost loved ones. As we live, we will lose more. Juliet loses Romeo. Then Romeo loses Juliet. And then they horrifically act out before our eyes what we often secretly feel: that life is not worth living without Love.
Do you prefer classical or contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare's work? Do you think the contemporary productions appeal more to younger generations?
I am not a theatre critic but I do prefer productions that keep Shakespeare's story at the heart of the play rather than a new interesting concept. As long as the "adaptation" takes a back seat to the language and the story, I don't mind whether the actors are wearing pumpkin pants or denim.
We set our production [at Great Lakes Theater] in post-World War I Europe. But we aren't telling the story of post-World War I Europe, we are telling the story of Romeo and Juliet. Our concept is simply a backdrop for a great story that does not improve with directorial intrusion. And I thank [director] Charles Fee from the bottom of my heart for that. He introduced the concept to us one day and told us to not think about it again. From that day on, we dealt with the story and the text.
The real key [to help younger generations find these plays more accessible] is introducing Shakespeare to students as a younger age, elementary school, even. Let them play with the language, act out scenes and have fun with it. Get them to understand the rudiments of these great stories. Their vocabulary will not only sky rocket but by the time they reach high school and are ready to tackle the more academic side of the work, their familiarity with it will give them a solid base and take away all the unnecessary fearful associations that accompany Shakespeare.
With all of the Shakespeare plays you've been a part of, do you have a favorite role you've performed? How about a role you haven't performed yet but would like to?
This Romeo is my favorite to date. I absolutely adore Betsy [Mugavero] as Juliet and am head over heels for the rest of the cast as well. I feel blessed to be with them on stage every day, under Charles Fee's superb direction. They all make me want to work better and harder. The role itself is also a dream come true. I mean, God … that balcony scene … those words! I get to fall in love, laugh, I get to murder, go mad and die. It's all those things actors hope to do. I'm extraordinarily blessed.
A role I haven't performed yet but would like to is a role I actually HAVE performed but I truly need a second shot at it years from now. Leontes, from THE WINTER'S TALE. I'm a bit young to do the role professionally but I got a chance to taste it with a short run during grad school. I put everything I had into the part and it was an absolute blender of a role. Every night was like walking into a lion's den. One of Shakespeare's last plays, the language is so mature and complex and the emotional sweep is enormous. I loved doing it, but I can't wait until I have more experience and am ready to give the beast a second go.
Do you have any upcoming projects you'd like to share?
Yes! A plug if I may! I'm also a playwright and my play SHINER is getting its first full production with the IAMA Theatre Company in Los Angeles this coming fall. Follow me: @christiandurso [on Twitter] or www.iamatheatre.com for updates on the production.
Great Lakes Theater's production of ROMEO & JULIET continues its run through April 28th. Evening performances are at 7:30pm, with Saturday matinees at 1:30pm and Sunday matinees at 3pm.
Tickets range from $15 to $70 for adults and are $13 for students. Purchase tickets online at www.greatlakestheater.org or through The PlayhouseSquare box office at 216.241.6000. The Hanna Theatre is located at 2047 E. 14th Street, in downtown Cleveland.
Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni