Seth Barany as Romeo and Nicole Beckman as Juliet in The Ohio State University Department of Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Photo credit: Courtesy of J. Briggs Cormier

Pizza is such sweet sorrow.

The Department of Theatre will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its school tour, an outreach and engagement program that brings live performances to students in more than a dozen schools across Franklin County. This year’s production brings a modern, delicious twist to William Shakespeare’s classic tale, “Romeo and Juliet.”

Director Tom Dugdale’s adaptation of the play centers on two love-struck teenagers whose families own rivaling pizza businesses. Dugdale’s inspiration for the contemporary adaptation stemmed from two real pizza restaurants in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

“They’re called Juliana’s and Grimaldi’s, and they’re literally right next door to one another. There are always two lines out the door of these two places,” Dugdale said. “Grimaldi’s has its loyal followers, and Juliana’s has its loyal followers. People are really interested in the pizza that they’re interested in.”

Dugdale condensed the three-hour play to one to cater to younger audiences. While the play still features mostly original text, Dugdale said he added some contemporary language in his adaptation.

“It was this double task of making it work with the pizza [adaptation], but also compressing the play down time-wise and trying not to lose key information,” Dugdale said.

Dugdale said he encountered a challenge adapting the original text to make it suitable for elementary to high school students as well as parents and teachers. Unlike the original text, actors do not drink alcohol or experience gruesome deaths in Dugdale’s updated version. The adapted version also replaces swords with pizza cutters.

“First and foremost, it’s about bringing this seemingly inaccessible text to young kids,”Seth Barany, a third-year law student who plays Romeo, said. “We, as the actors, have really leaned into that aspect of the play.”

While Barany took a few acting courses as an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico, this will be his first production and school tour at Ohio State.

“The kids make it less pressured because they don’t know the lines, and they don’t know what they’re looking for,” Barany said. “They’re mostly just looking to be entertained.”

Although the play has 10 roles, the cast consists of five actors. Other than Barany and Nicole Beckman, a second-year in political science playing Juliet, each actor plays two to three roles. The cast practices six days a week for up to five hours per rehearsal.

Beckman has acted since kindergarten and has experience performing in front of children.

“Kids have less of an attention span, so you have to do shorter shows like this,” Beckman said. “If you do it right, it’s really fun.”

Beckman has acted in Shakespeare classics before, starring in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as a high school student. “Romeo and Juliet” will be her first department show and second large production at Ohio State.

“It’s really a big poem,” Beckman said. “Shakespeare loves to make it rhyme and sound very metered, so it’s easier to remember. On the downside, if you get a word wrong, it sounds weird.”

Although the play is a tragedy in which Romeo and Juliet ultimately die, Beckman said kids can learn lessons from the show.

Dugdale said he hopes to reach people who would be unable to ordinarily attend performances on campus, as well as offering a chance for the cast to grow by performing in front of diverse audiences.

“It extends our reach into the community,” Dugdale said. “It’s also a really great opportunity for our students to learn what it means to take a production out onto the road, adapt to different audiences and different places and try to keep the show the same despite [that] performance faces and performance conditions are actually changing.”

The performance will take place at Drake Performance and Event Center’s Thurber Theatre at 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27; 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28 and 3 p.m. Sept. 29. Tickets are available for purchase at the Ohio State Theatre Ticket Office, over the phone at 614-292-2295 or online through Ticketmaster.