These violent delights have violent ends and in their triumph die, like fire and powder, which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey is loathsome in his own deliciousness.Friar Laurence, “Romeo & Juliet,” Act II, Scene VI
Romeo and Juliet is perhaps the most well-known Shakespearean play. Many versions have been attempted over the years. As a lover of all things Shakespeare, I’m always intrigued by new twists on his classic works. Enter “These Violent Delights by Jonathan Josephson, with apologies to William Shakespeare.” This play takes a stab (pun intended) at the continuation of the star-crossed lovers story, after their death.
For the past couple Halloween seasons I’ve attempted to attend a Wicked Lit performance by Unbound Productions which features immersive adaptations of classic horror literature. But my schedule and their ticket availability never lined up. I remained hopeful on their mailing list and this February the stars aligned. I received an email about a staged reading of These Violent Delights as a pre-Valentines celebration. Tickets were pay-what-you-want with proceeds benefiting the Light Bringer Project. Simply RSVP. Apparently everyone had the same idea as me. Because within hours of submitting my request I received an email saying I’d been wait-listed.
“Romeo & Juliet” Act I, Scene I
“Ay me! Sad hours seem long”
The bad news continued. Another email days later informed me that the February 13th performance at the Pasadena Playhouse was full. No more room at the theatre. But keep faith, because due to the overwhelming demand for tickets, production was looking for another venue for a second show.
“Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy days.”“Romeo & Juliet” Act I, Scene III
Luckily the good folks at Theatre West opened up their doors and a second staged reading was scheduled for the following week.
A little backstory about how this play came to be from the playwright, Jonathan Josephson
“Last year, I had three readings of the short play This Hungry Churchyard, which I billed as an Act VI, Scene I of Romeo and Juliet (i.e. a continuation of Shakespeare’s story after the star-crossed lovers have died.) The play was well-received, and after a bit of research, rereads of a chunk of the Shakespearean canon, a grant from the City of Pasadena, and the support of numerous family, friends, and creative colleagues, I’ve gone and expanded that short into an evening-length play – this play, These Violent Delights.”
The staged reading began as promised with both Romeo and Juliet dead and wrapped in shrouds. Enter Rosaline. Yup, remember her? The other Capulet. Romeo’s “first-love.” She has come to free Romeo from the trap of death with a potion from the Apothecary. (Because that always ends well.) But before Romeo has a chance to wake, in walks Benvolio. Romeo’s closest friend, who arrives with the same task in mind as Rosaline. They seemingly succeed and Romeo begins to arise. But something isn’t quite right.
I think you can see where this is heading…
An overdose of the apothecary’s potion and the now “un-dead” Romeo rises up and attacks both Rosaline and Benvolio. Thus a mini zombie hoard is born.
Each part, deprived of supple government,“Romeo & Juliet” Act IV, Scene I
Shall, stiff and stark and cold, appear like death.
And in this borrowed likeness of shrunk death
Thou shalt continue two and forty hours,
And then awake as from a pleasant sleep.
The story continues as we meet Friar Laurence and Juliet’s Nurse, following them as they attempt to evade the ever growing zombie hoard. Along the way we meet other well-known Shakespearean characters. Shylock (Merchant of Venice) and Beatrice (Much ado about Nothing.) This unlikely foursome gets in and out of all sorts of trouble, expounding witty banter along the way.
The writing is terrific. Taking classical meter and interspersing it with modern ideas and humor both subtle and suggestive. Very much in the vein of many of Shakespeare’s comedies. The fabulous writing is brought to life by thoughtful directing and an incredible cast. Seriously everyone, including Romeo who mainly grunts and stumbles around the stage for the first act is wonderful. The actors who played Beatrice and Friar Laurence were my personal faves.
There were plenty of nods to other Shakespearean plays that felt like inside jokes the actors shared with the audience. (I never realized just how many Shakespeare plays had a character named Balthasar.) All set to the backdrop of your standard zombie film. Figuring out how to kill the zombies and rid Verona of this plague.
The staged reading was really fun. The actors holding scripts never took me out of the story. The simple but sufficient stage props and special effects added to the comedy of it all. Yet, I do hope that Jonathan Josephson has the opportunity to turn These Violent Delights into a full production. The story is strong and the actors compelling. I’ll hold out hope that maybe it can be done for Halloween.