Eventually, the love-stricken teenagers commit suicide, dying dramatically in each other’s arms.
At least that appeared to be the case, briefly, in Gyula where the couple and aspiring actors of the School Theater group received a long ovation from those who came to this free performance.
“In real life we’re just very good friends,” said 21-year-old actress Renáta Kondász, who plays Juliet, of her co-star.
The role of Juliet wasn’t easy for the sparkling eyed Hungarian actress.
“In the beginning, Juliet seemed so different than me. But as she matures, she gets closer to my heart,” explained Kondász.
For Romeo, otherwise known as Szabolcs Hernádi, 27, performing in Gyula is a special experience. “It’s a great joy to play in an impoverished region for people who otherwise would never have the money to go visit a theater,” he told BosNewsLife.
That’s exactly why the chief organizer of the Shakespeare Festival 2011, József Gedeon, brought them to this 800-year-old town, where churches compete for attention around noon time from Gyula’s roughly 33,000 residents. “We want everyone to see this,” he commented.
Gedeon is also director of the nearby Gyula Castle Theater, nestled in the courtyard of Central and Eastern Europe’s only remaining intact brick fortress.
It’s where 29-year old Vera Sipos and others gather for their daring, musical and often semi-nude interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida,” a love and power struggle during the legendary Trojan War in Ancient Greece.
“It’s not easy to perform in the fortress,” said Sipos. “You have to work hard to keep the energy inside the walls. Sometimes it’s very hot, sometimes it’s raining. And there are flies.”
PASSION FOR PERFORMANCE
Though the performances last for three hours, Sipos said she feels “more energized at the end of this Shakespeare play than at the beginning” because of the positive effect it has on the audience.
The fortress is filled to capacity, with wine and mineral water available to cool down the crowd who paid around 5 euros ($7) to see the show. Girls in Renaissance-style dresses greet them at an ancient entrance near a bridge.
“We can play Shakespeare without putting up decor. It’s all here,” added castle director Gedeon with a smile.
This coming Sunday, July 17, the festival will enjoy a world premiere when director Oskaras Korsunovas and his Vilnius City Theater group perform “Miranda” for the first time, a play based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”
Gedeon is pleased that the theater troop chose the unlikely town of Gyula to premiere the work.
Hungary’s cash-strapped government managed to scrape together 55 million forints (208,000 euros) for the 11-day festival, with the remaining 55 million forints coming from the local municipality, said Mihály Galbács , Gyula’s deputy mayor for financial matters, who also happens to be a fan of “Romeo and Juliet.”
“I hope this cultural event will help boost other sectors as well,” said Galbács. Although Gyula also boasts attractions like spa baths and Miami Vice-style boats chasing each other on the Fehér-Körös River, tourism isn’t quite what it used to be.
More than two decades ago, under the communist regime, some one million tourists used to visit the town and region annually.
Last year, only half that number showed up, according to the local tourism organization. With bumpy roads leading up to the town and the nearest airport some 120 kilometers (75 miles) away, Gyula has a few strikes against it, said Galbács.
“Of course Hungary is going through a huge economic crisis. That is especially true in this region near the Romanian border,” added the deputy mayor. “With seven-percent unemployment we are doing better than other nearby areas, yet many young people leave. We hope to keep them here – the Shakespeare festival can help with that.”
More visitors would also be welcome news for 35-year old Ida Nagy. As director of the Pálinka tasting house near the local factory she welcomes Shakespeare pilgrims to drink at least some of Hungary’s notoriously strong fruit brandy.
She said, ”Before I arrived here, three years ago, I never really drank it. Then my friends said: ‘But you work there, you should at least try it.’ Now I love it.” Or in Sheakepeare’s words: ”Hear my soul speak. Of the very instant that I saw you, Did my heart fly at your service.” (Parts of this BosNewsLife News story was already published on its affiliated Deutsche Welle network, Germany’s international multi-media broadcaster).