Christian Durso and Betsy Mugavero know each other very well. They better; they're playing drama's most-famous lovers, Romeo and Juliet, in Idaho Shakespeare Festival's 36th season opener beginning with a preview performance Friday, June 1.
But long before appearing onstage at that iconic balcony in Verona, Italy, Durso and Mugavero first met at the Denver airport shortly after being cast. They had already traveled different theatrical journeys, his beginning in Southern California, hers in the steel-town of Bethlehem, Pa.
What were the big dreams for you when you were the ages of Romeo and Juliet?
Mugavero: I thought I would be playing soccer for a while. I wasn't going to be an Olympian or anything like that but I thought it might take me to college. But one day, I thought I would try acting. I ended up going to Temple University to study theater. I went on to get my masters in fine arts at the University of California, Irvine.
Durso: I knew I wanted to go to New York to train as an actor. [Durso worked on stage and in soap operas while in New York.]
What was your first memorable moment on a stage?
Durso: I was in 11th grade and should have been studying my United States history textbook, but I got cast as Riff in West Side Story.
Have you considered that Romeo and Juliet has brought you full-circle back to West Side Story? [The musical was based on Romeo and Juliet.]
Durso: Just talking to you now, yeah. It was that experience that led me to want to do this.
This is not the first time you have played Juliet.
Mugavero: I played her at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.
Durso: I'm madly jealous of Betsy because she's had two cracks at this.
Mugavero: But it's completely different for me. I'm a different person and, of course, he's a different person. It feels new every night.
This is a play that was written in the 16th century. Is there still resonance in the story of Romeo and Juliet in 2012?
Mugavero: It's still about following your passion. Every night, you want Romeo and Juliet to make it. No matter how chaotic the world is, there's always a little light to be found.
Durso: When you're young, you may not have the maturity to know how to handle love when it's wild and passionate. And when we're young, some of us may have even thought that life wasn't worth living if you lose someone.
How old were you when you first fell in love?
Durso: 16. I remember how wonderful it was. The whole world opened up, and I thought that no one had ever felt what I was feeling then. Even though it was a relationship that didn't work out, it was something that was very strong and I'll carry that with me forever.
Mugavero: I was 20. It hit me like a lightning bolt. I saw him and said, "That person is going to break my heart." And he did, years later. It hurt, but it was a good hurt. It was crazy. I think that is what is so great about the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. When she says, "I wish but for the things I have. My bounty is as boundless as the sea. My love as deep."
Juliet is 13 and we believe that Romeo is a few years older. How old are you?
Mugavero: 28. A bit older than Juliet.
But some of the greatest stage actresses continued to play Juliet well into their 40s.
Mugavero: Even Meryl Streep [61-years-old] is about to play her. [Streep will take part in a reading of Romeo and Juliet in New York City on June 18.]
Tell me the difference between a good director and a great director.
Mugavero: A great director sees who you are and then helps to bring that out of you and then into who you are playing.
Durso: I've worked with some directors that I considered great and Charlie [Fee] surpassed them all. I have worked with good directors who know how to make an audience laugh or cry. That's awesome. But a great director helps you finesse it, getting the company to achieve its best possible performance. They make great things happen.