The Eight Year Journey to Verona

The talented Laura Hirschberg is a valued playwright of The Workshop Theater where she is also an Associate Artistic Director.  A member, too, of 3V Theatre some of her playwriting credits include: HEART OF OAK with Everyday Inferno, FIRE THIEF at The Looking Glass Theatre.  At the WorkShop, CALL ME... (as part of Cold Snaps 2009) and FISH FOOD (as part of A La Carte in 2015), and a 3-Day for VERONA WALLS before getting this Main Stage production. Let’s talk to her about that!

Q: What inspired you to write Verona Walls?

A: I’ve been writing this play on and off for about eight years.  So the inspiration that got me started writing it is a bit different than the inspiration that’s kept me coming back to the piece again and again.  But either way, it comes down to Mercutio.  I’m a Shakespeare nut, so I’ve got my handful of characters that I adore–Prince Hal, Beatrice, Hamlet, Feste, Iago, Puck–but Mercutio has always stood out.  He’s a show-stealer.  It doesn’t matter if it’s John McEnery in the Zeffirelli ROMEO AND JULIET or Russ Tamblyn as Riff in WEST SIDE STORY, Mercutio has always been my guy.  He’s witty, loyal, brave, foolish, and sort of wildly out of place.  And when he dies at the top of R & J’s Act III, the whole world just changes.  Plus he gets some of the best one-liners–hilarious and tragic–I’ve ever read or heard.

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Playwright, Laura Hirschberg

I’d say the jumping-off point for writing this play was his entrance in R & J.  The “Queen Mab” speech: It’s beautiful poetry and it really sets an ominous mood as we head into the Capulet ball, but it comes almost out of nowhere–a huge reaction to Romeo’s “I dreamt a dream tonight.”  I wanted to know what had happened to this guy that made him have such an extreme reaction to a conversation about love and dreams.  I figured it must have something to do with a broken heart.  The explanation has gotten a bit more complicated over the course of eight years of rewrites, but, like I said, it all comes back to Mercutio–Shakespeare’s or mine.  He’s the inspiration.

Q.  In what theatrical ways does the original ROMEO AND JULIET influence the piece?

A.  The original ROMEO AND JULIET is a huge inspiration, of course.  The action of this play starts a week before the events of Shakespeare’s play kick off.  After that point, ROMEO AND JULIET is essentially taking place offstage while VERONA WALLS continues, until Shakespeare’s plot inevitably steamrolls its way through.

Q.  How has the piece changed in development?  What was the biggest surprise for you?

A.  The piece has changed enormously in development, due in large part, I think, to the fact that I’m eight years older than I was when I started.  My perspective on a lot of the major themes–love, sacrifice, friendship, home–has certainly evolved.  There were some conversations the characters needed to have that I was not prepared to write when I was twenty.  And there are decisions they had to make that I had no reference point for.  I suppose the biggest surprise for me as this play has developed is that, while it’s always been a play about love, the meaning of “love” in the play has changed dramatically.

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Enjoy rehearsal

Q.  How do you think this piece works in modern times?

A.  VERONA WALLS isn’t really set in any particular time period.  The themes of ROMEO AND JULIET are so pervasive throughout history, and culturally, R & J has echoes everywhere you look.  So I wanted this play to be at home in any period that might feel those echoes.  There are plenty of direct Shakespeare quotes in the script, but there’s also poetry by John Donne and W. H. Auden, music by The Beatles, Gershwin, and Cheap Trick…  It’s a play about love and what you might have to give up to hang onto it.  There’s nothing distinctly modern or classical about that, so we’re going for both!

Q.  What would you like audiences to come away with after seeing the play?
A. I’d love for people who didn’t come in loving Shakespeare to leave feeling a connection to his work.  Not that Shakespeare needs a lot of PR help, but I think many people believe there’s a wall separating them from his plays, and I’d like to help tear down that wall.

I also hope that the audience leaves with a greater appreciation of the many forms that love can take, and the value of having many kinds of love in one’s life.

 

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