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Happily ever after? Play follows Romeo, Juliet into the 'void'

May 24, 2016

Shakespeare’s classic tale of tragic love ends with Romeo and Juliet giving their lives for one another. But according to Phoenix playwright Chris Danowski, what happens next is even more complicated.

Danowski’s work “romeo&juliet/VOID,” which will have its world premiere at Arizona State University’s Paul V. Galvin Playhouse this month, follows the star-crossed lovers into the afterlife, where they grapple with a new set of problems.

“Danowski’s is a unique voice, a profound, complex, funny and achingly gorgeous voice,” said Lance Gharavi, associate director of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “I believe him to be one of the greatest living poets of the U.S. American theater, and he lives here in Phoenix. This production is a gift. A strange, mysterious gift about love and death, heartbreak and eternity.”

ASU’s production features actors, dancers and designers from the School of Film, Dance and Theatre under the direction of Stephen Wrentmore, the associate artistic director of Arizona Theatre Company.

“Chris and Stephen come from two very different artistic cultures,” said Gharavi. “It’s remarkable to see these two cultures come together in dialogue with the support of ASU’s resources and a team of our top young designers.”

Wrentmore says he comes to “romeo&juliet/VOID” in large part due to ATC’s mission to support and nurture artists in the field.

“Outside of working with designers and dancers and actors, what I am also doing is creating a space where those students get to work with each other,” said Wrentmore. “The sense of creating a collaborative world in their evenings has been a really exciting part of the process.”

This collaboration has especially come into play in many of the visual elements used in this performance, according to Matthew Ragan, a graduate student in the interdisciplinary media and performance program and the media designer for “romeo&juliet/VOID.” The actors are actually able to interact with video projections in this production.

“We’re using two projectors as sidelights so the actors can transverse through a curtain, creating more dimension and space,” said Ragan. “As (the actors) move and shift in that light, you have this texture that rolls onto them, and it’s really haunting.”

Effects like these help to create the void in the play’s title; it isn’t a concrete place or time.

“(The play) is a compelling multi-layered narrative that works on so many different planes that sometimes it’s hard to grasp,” said Wrentmore. “But what became clear to me as I peeled the onion of this piece was that clearly (Chris) had written a love story.”

Indeed, the relationships between characters remain the driving force behind “romeo&juliet/VOID,” despite the play’s avant-garde tendencies.

“Even in darkness, even in loss, even in complexity, the simplicity of the love story steps out, and I adore that,” said Wrentmore.

“There’s something about the freshness of love that’s just intoxicating,” said Danowski. “There’s still that spark that does something to an audience, and I think it makes something in them, that maybe they thought was dead, come back to life.”

Catch one of seven performances of “romeo&juliet/VOID” at the Paul V. Galvin Playhouse in the Nelson Fine Arts Center, 51 E. 10th St., on ASU’s Tempe campus: 7:30 p.m., Nov. 14-15; 2 p.m., Nov. 16; 7:30 p.m., Nov. 20-22; 2 p.m., Nov. 23.

Ticket prices are: $16, general admission; $12, ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12, senior; $8, student. Buy tickets here .

ASU Art Museum