Bits 'n' Pieces: Magenta Theater presents a steamier 'Romeo and Juliet'

By Stover E. Harger III, Columbian staff writer


photoRobbin Goss (Romeo) and Hannah Mock (Juliet) perform in a dress rehearsal for Magenta Theater Company's production of "Romeo and Juliet," a steampunk adaptation of the classic Shakespeare romantic tragedy which premieres this weekend.


It's a steamier take on "Romeo and Juliet."

If you go

• What: Magenta Theater Company presents a steampunk version of “Romeo and Juliet.”

• When: 7 p.m. April 12, 17-19, 23-25; 2 p.m. April 19, 26.

• Where: 606 Main St., Vancouver.

• Cost: $13-16.

• Information: Magenta Theater's website, 360-635-4358.

The Bard’s verse transcends time and culture, so why not unite his “star-crossed lovers” in a world of fantastical machinery and Victorian dress?

Vancouver’s Magenta Theater Company is doing just that with its steampunk adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” now in its opening weekend.

Directed and adapted by Magenta’s David Roberts, the nonprofit theater group’s version of the classic play about two rival families and a doomed, but eternal, love affair between teenagers Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet is set in an alternative Victorian time with a steam-powered twist.

Steampunk is a sub-genre of speculative science fiction that has become popular in recent years, inspiring graphic novels, films, conventions and fashion. Steampunk typically pairs Victorian-era costumes and culture with elaborate machinery centered around steam power and clockwork, creating an alternative history that inspires wonder among its devotees. It’s all about merging the future with the past.

For Roberts, steampunk and Shakespeare fit together like, well, cogs on a steam train.

“It gives it a whole different feel,” he said this week during a break from one of the show’s final rehearsals. “Steampunk kept popping into my head because of the interesting visual and character ideas.

“It feels more current even though it’s still set several hundred years in the past.”

It’s long been a tradition to take Shakespeare’s stories and shift them to different settings. “Romeo and Juliet’s” tragic love story was famously adapted as the musical “West Side Story,” where the gangs the Sharks and the Jets squared (and snapped) off in the streets of 1950s New York City. In the mid-1990s, teenagers swooned over young Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet,” a hyperkinetic take on the story. In that film, which retained the original dialogue despite the modern beach town setting, guns have the brand name of “Sword” and a Capulet “bites his thumb” at a Montague outside a gas station.

Magenta’s version follows those imaginative takes as a way for audiences to connect with a classic. Roberts said their performance retains Shakespeare’s verse, but adds modern music and wild costumes into the mix. The theater group even brought in a stage combat choreographer to teach the cast how to pull off some big fight scenes.

“You connect with it even more and the relationship with Romeo and Juliet,” he said. “My intention is those people into steampunk will find many elements entertaining, and those who are traditionalists, the language is still the same, the story is still the same. The adaptation is something that’s accessible to everyone.”

Bits ’n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you’d like to share, email