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Vicki Gerdes, Forum Communications, Published July 02 2012

Shakespeare in the Park actors in Detroit Lakes reprise tragic tale in free weekend events

“Did my heart love ’til now? Forswear it sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty ’til this night.”

–William Shakespeare, “Romeo & Juliet”


DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – The poetic words that star-crossed lovers use to declare their burgeoning passion for each other have made “Romeo & Juliet” one of the most enduringly popular of all William Shakespeare’s plays.

Though ultimately tragic, this tale of teenagers from warring families caught up in the throes of first love is also sweetly romantic.

And that sweetness was very much in evidence when the two young thespians cast in the title roles for this year’s Shakespeare in the Park production kissed in rehearsals for the first time, said director Nikki Caulfield.

The second weekend of the annual Shakespeare in the Park in Detroit Lakes continues with shows Friday through Sunday.

“It was like watching a junior high dance,” Caulfield says with a smile. “They used to totally melt down with the giggles (when they kissed). It was so adorable, the whole cast would get the giggles.

“They’re so cute. I just love them.”

And the feeling is mutual.

“Nikki knows so much about Shakespeare,” gushes Hannah Amundson, who plays Juliet, adding that the director has been extremely helpful whenever she’s had questions about her character or the oft-archaic phrasing of the language used.

“I auditioned on a whim,” she adds. “Even before I knew I’d been cast, I said, ‘I’d love to be a part of it – even if I didn’t get a part,’ I wanted to be involved.”

Fortunately, Caulfield saw something in Amundson’s audition that she thought would make her the perfect Juliet.

“It’s a little intimidating (to take on such an iconic character),” Amundson admits. “But I’ve been learning so much.”

And she enjoys getting to know the character of Juliet.

“She’s sassy, and I think she’s smart,” Amundson says. “She’s a planner, she gets her way, and she’s strong willed, which I respect. It’s fun to play her.

“Anytime Juliet’s talking about being in love, I like it – I revel in it.”

“It’s teenage love – it’s everything, you’re all in,” says Joy Sunram, who plays the role of Juliet’s mother, Lady Capulet. “That’s how he (Shakespeare) wrote the character.”

Sunram is one of the group’s veteran thespians, having been part of two previous Shakespeare in the Park productions.

“I like the outdoor theater aspect,” she says. “I like to see the variety of people who show up (for auditions). It’s always a pleasant surprise, watching things come together.

“This is the quickest I’ve seen a cast go off book (i.e., stop using scripts on a regular basis). Everyone’s just jumped right in.”

Caulfield agrees.

“These guys are so good,” she exclaims. “I’m just blown away by this cast.”

Tanner Hofius, who plays Romeo, was quite surprised to learn that he had been cast in the lead – after all, like Amundson, this was his first time auditioning for Shakespeare in the Park.

“I was surprised, I really was,” he says. “But it’s been really fun. It’s the first real play that I’ve done – there’s so much experience I’m getting, playing a major role. The lines I have to learn, the fights – it’s so much doing and learning this, and feeling that I’m getting better and better.”

Tony Trautman, who plays the dual roles of Mercutio and Montague, says that while this is his first time taking part in the Detroit Lakes Shakespeare in the Park experience, he’s done many shows like “Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Odd Couple,” both in high school and during his time at Valley City (N.D.) State University.

Still, he adds, wearing period costumes and learning to fight with swords on stage for the first time has been “a fun experience.”

“It’s definitely an experience, with the costumes and the fight scenes and learning the old English that’s used in the play,” he adds. “But it’s good to do the classics every once in a while.”

Andy Gustafson, who plays the role of the Nurse, has one year of Shakespeare in the Park experience under her belt, and says she’s excited to be playing the clown’s part this year.

“To have a female as the buffoon – that’s not common (of Shakespeare’s plays),” she says. “It’s a great amount of fun to play – she gets all the ‘stupidly clever’ lines to say.”

Being a part of this year’s production has also given Gustafson “a greater appreciation” for this play in particular, she adds.

“You have to sympathize with them (the title characters),” she says. “And the writing itself is truly superb – the poetry is really amazing. I can see why it’s stood the test of time.”

If You Go

WHAT: Shakespeare in the Park’s “Romeo & Juliet”

WHEN: 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday

where: Detroit Lakes City Park Bandshell

tickets: Free. For more information, call the Historic Holmes Theatre at (218) 844-7469, or visit the website at www.dlccc.org.