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posted: 4/18/2014 6:01 AM

ECC's 'Romeo and Juliet' focuses on Juliet

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  • Elgin Community College Theatre's production of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" focuses on Juliet and her family. Romeo is played by Kevin Stoffel of Algonquin and Juliet is played by Sonya Madrigal of Elgin.

    Elgin Community College Theatre's production of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" focuses on Juliet and her family. Romeo is played by Kevin Stoffel of Algonquin and Juliet is played by Sonya Madrigal of Elgin.
    Courtesy of Elgin Community College

Submitted by Elgin Community College

Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is a classic tale of star-crossed lovers, but Elgin Community College Theatre is going to tell it with a new twist.

The show opens Friday, April 18, and runs through Sunday, May 4, in the ECC Arts Center's SecondSpace Theatre, in Building H on the Spartan Drive Campus, 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, April 18, 19, 25, 26 and May 2 and 3; and at 3 p.m. Sundays, April 27 and May 4.

ECC Theatre's production of this classic Shakespearean tragedy of forbidden love, revenge, and two tragically entwined families puts more of its focus on Juliet and her family than typical productions. Wanting to highlight Juliet's choices throughout the play, director Azar Kazemi did her own cut of the play -- though the words are all still Shakespeare -- to focus on Juliet, played by Sonya Madrigal of Elgin, and the Capulets.

"I really see Juliet as this strong female protagonist who makes strong choices that propel this story forward and I think that her strength sometimes gets lost in productions," Kazemi said.

Tying into that theme of strong female characters, Kazemi has cast female actors in two roles traditionally portrayed by men, Mercutio played by Katheryn Pucillo of Lake in the Hills and Benvolio portrayed by Cynthia Esparza of Elgin.

"Honestly, I cast the best actors for these roles and I'm excited for the audience to see how we deal with that gender shift within the production," Kazemi said.

"Romeo and Juliet" is a special play for Kazemi. She credits directing a scene from the play while in high school with introducing her to directing.

"It was the first thing I ever directed," Kazemi said.

This experience inspired her to pursue directing as a career. She revisited the play, directing it in its entirety while an MFA student in directing at DePaul University, and she welcomes the opportunity to explore Verona, the Capulets, and Montagues further with ECC's theater students.

As for what she hopes audiences will take away from the play: love.

"I've always found it interesting how much the characters in this play focus on how different Romeo and Juliet are from each other, when really they're the same," she said. "They cling to each other because they are both very lonely members of powerful families, and they're dealing with the same life pressures,

"I think if we as humans could see the similarities within each other, we could divert a lot of tragedies; just as in this play if the Capulets and Montagues could see past their differences before a great tragedy forces them to, we'd have a very different story.

"There is a great line in this play, 'There's much to do with hate, but more to do with love.' And I think in the end this is a story of love pacifying hatred, in spite of the play's tragic end."

Other members of the cast include Kevin Stoffel of Algonquin as Romeo, Eric Waddick of Algonquin as Paris, José Lopez of Elgin as Lord Capulet, Eric Wagner of St. Charles as Lord Montague/Friar John, Keaton Fahnestock of South Elgin as Friar Laurence and Vinny Prisco of St. Charles as Prince/Apothecary. International students in the cast include Paula Smiech of Zamosc, Poland as Lady Capulet and Sarah Merlo of Newcastle, Australia as Nurse.

Azar Kazemi, visiting director and theater adjunct faculty, also directed ECC Theatre's 2013 production of Tanya Saracho's "Our Lady of the Underpass." She is the founding artistic director of The Blind Owl, a collective of dedicated performers, artists, and activists. She is a graduate of DePaul University's MFA directing program and has worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Victory Gardens, Silk Road Rising, Next Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and Chicago Dramatists.

Tickets for ECC Theatre's "Romeo and Juliet" are $11 for adults and $9 for students and seniors. Tickets are available online at or at the ECC box office in the Arts Center, or by calling (847) 622-0300.

Visit for more information about the ECC Arts Center, including video clips of upcoming artists and events, the Standing Room Only blog, and links to the Arts Center's Twitter and Facebook pages.

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