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FreshBaked Theatre Company to Present the Magic of Shakespeare for Kids and Adults with “Romeo and Juliet”

students take on the roles of Romeo and Juliet

Sara Hufnagle, '18, plays the part of Juliet opposite Viraga Perera, '15, as Romeo.

Widener University’s FreshBaked Theatre Company will present “Romeo and Juliet” on two consecutive Sundays, March 15 and March 22, at 2 p.m. Matinees for local schools and homeschooling families take place on March 17 at 1 p.m. and March 27 at 10 a.m., but reservations are required for these two performances. All performances take place in Alumni Auditorium, located on Widener’s Main Campus in Chester, Pa. The play is recommended for ages 8 to adult. Running time is 65 minutes.

Admission to all performances of “Romeo and Juliet” is by free will cash donation, with all funds benefiting community aid organizations in Chester. The suggested donation is $2 per person.

According to Director Lisa Eckley Cocchiarale, a double challenge exists for any ensemble presenting Shakespeare for younger audiences. It needs to be clear enough for children to understand, yet creative and sharp enough to entertain the adults who accompany them to the performance. FreshBaked Theatre Company’s upcoming production of "Romeo and Juliet" lives up to the group’s longstanding mission to present “inventive drama for young audiences . . . and the adults who nurture them.”  

Cocchiarale says this energetic adaptation from British playwright Toby Hulse (first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013) “pulses with energy.” In little more than an hour, the audience laughs out loud and is reduced to tears by the star-crossed lovers and their feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues. The play reduces the number of characters, yet still remains quite faithful to Shakespeare’s original story and language. Tying the whole piece together is the ingenious “frame” that the author, Toby Hulse, places around Shakespeare’s story.

Before we meet the Shakespearean characters, we meet Emily, a young girl settling into her new bedroom and searching for “true love” in the pages of her favorite books. By chance, Emily happens upon a copy of “Romeo and Juliet” and assumes all will end “happily ever after.”  But the Shakespeare characters who appear in her room have other ideas.

Finding a way to present the Shakespearean “world” to contemporary audiences is a challenge for any director. For a play written around 1595, Renaissance costumes and music might have been an obvious choice. However, Cocchiarale had a different vision. “The Romeo and Juliet story unfolds through the lens of Emily’s imagination. When she first opens the book, she exclaims, ‘Verona . . . how romantic!’ This calls to mind classic romance films like “Roman Holiday,” Cocchiarale said.And because the story is about teenagers, I thought it would be perfect to pair teen angst and impulsiveness with exuberant Italian pop music from the early 1960s.”

“Romeo and Juliet” features Widener University students Luis Aguilar, Ariel Diehl, Sara Hufnagle, Carolyn Lodge, Josh Mulzoff, Viraga Perera, Kirk Reichart and Erika Sprague, as well as seventh-grade student Ruby Knipe from Wilmington, Del. Autumn Heisler is choreographer, Chara Kramer is dramaturg and Luis Aguilar is stage combat adviser. Technical assistance is provided by Daniel Castagna and Nick Demberger.

Since 2001, Widener’s FreshBaked Theatre Company has produced quality drama for children and families in the greater Chester area. The ensemble seeks to enhance Widener University’s commitment to civic engagement by sharing the magic of live performing arts. 

For more information, or to make reservations, please e-mail Cocchiarale at ljcocchiarale@widener.edu or visit the FreshBaked Theatre Company on Facebook.

Widener University is a metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. Widener is comprised of eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral degrees. The university’s campuses in Chester, Exton and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve more than 6,300 students. Widener is proud to be a tobacco-free campus. Visit the university’s website, www.widener.edu.