Olsen noted that the two lovers have only four scenes together, two of which are very brief. It is the time they spend apart, she said, that demonstrates their devotion to each other and their conviction that they should be together.
"You see them when they're together and also when they're apart," she said. "It's the willingness to make sure they can be together when they're not, that goes into the chemistry."
The Classic Stage Company's production is not the only Shakespeare play, or even the only Romeo and Juliet, currently being performed in New York. The aforementioned modern-set production of the star-crossed lovers is currently playing Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre, and a double bill of Richard III and Twelfth Night and a production of Macbeth will open later in the fall. In Brooklyn, an all-female cast will perform Julius Caesear at St. Ann's Warehouse, and a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Julie Taymor, begins performances at Theater for a New Audience Oct. 19.
Shakespeare's continued popularity led Olsen to reflect on different cultures' portrayal of classic works.
"There's something about when Western theatre takes on Shakespeare, takes Chekhov, takes a classic text. We feel we have to put it on a pedestal and honor it instead of making it our own. Then you go to Berlin, you go to Russia, and people are using from the text what they need to tell their story." Olsen said the Classic Stage Company's production approaches the work from an angle similar to that used in Russia or Berlin — the actors are given the opportunity to take ownership of the characters and story they are telling.
"I feel very lucky that I'm doing this play because every day I get to prep myself and I get to be infected with love," she said. "That's a really lucky thing, as opposed to the most existential, 'We have no hope' situation. The good thing about Juliet is she has hope until she kills herself. It feels really amazing to be infected with that kind of energy for the amount of time we're going to be running the show."
Olsen, who was exposed to fame at a young age, via her successful older sisters Mary Kate and Ashley, said she is drawn to work that challenges her, and she chooses her roles carefully.
"I realized I would be happiest if I worked on things that gave me some sort of pleasure, some sort of learning experience," she said. "Now I can really choose what's going to be worth the effort and experience."
Some of the roles she would someday like to tackle are Lady Macbeth and Mary Tyrone, but she said, "I really have time to wait. I'm always attracted to the characters I couldn't play right now...I feel so lucky to be working on a play right now…It really brings me back to the detail of the time and the never-ending mentality of working on a character."
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