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'Romeo and Juliet' comic sequel set '10 Years Later'

Westmont troupe to stage original show

If you've ever been wistful for a different ending to Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," playwright and director Mike Rago of Downers Grove offers his comic invention in a Westmont production presented by the Progressive Village Performance Network.

"Romeo and Juliet, 10 Years Later" suggests the couple faked their deaths and stole away from Verona.

"They've been living in hiding for the past 10 years out in the country," said Rago, who grew up in Elmhurst. "They've got seven kids now. Their infatuation is long gone. Romeo's good looks and Juliet's charms are fading."

Cue the intrigue when they move nearer to Verona for Romeo's new job as assistant gravedigger, and suspicions about their identity arise.

"If you're a fan of Mel Brooks or Monty Python, it's kind of in that vein," said Rago, who's been fine-tuning the show through several productions. "We have got a fantastic cast and crew. I think the script's in the best place it's ever been with all the tweaks."

It was December 2011 that inspiration struck, he recalls.

"I woke up in the middle of the night," he said. "I had the whole show in my head. Half awake, half asleep, I started writing at 4 o'clock in the morning. It kept flowing out. Next thing I know, I had a 150-page draft."

Rago, who works in real estate and mortgages, is also a musician and songwriter, to whom late-night inspiration is nothing new. Music is taking a temporary backseat as he crafts the play, although he did compose its background music.

Assisting with the show is Suzanne Andersen of Hinsdale, who talks about his pitch to PVPN, a theater organization associated with the Westmont Park District.

"It was just hilarious, and I had to jump on board," she said, noting one main character required extra poetic license. "[A] lovable favorite is going to be Bob Buggins. He's kind of a clueless detective, but very lovable. It's definitely not a character in anything Shakespeare."

She's not only stage manager, but will make her acting debut as an ensemble member, joined by her 10-year-old daughter, Avery. Her husband, Art, plays Lord Montague, and her 12-year-old son, A.J., portrays one of the title couple's kids: Pukus.

She said her family became involved with PVPN two years ago, when Avery was nudged by her oldest brother to go out for the musical "Annie."

"She was very shy and didn't want to do it," Suzanne Andersen said, adding that her daughter was uncomfortable speaking in front of people. "[PVPN] has helped her tremendously – now she's able to to do speaking in class [in school]. She blossomed because of this organization that would accept anybody and was very nurturing," she said, praising the vision of PVPN founder and Artistic Director Robert Plowman.

For "Romeo and Juliet, 10 Years Later," Rago said he used modern English for the audience-friendly plot he set in the original period.

"I'm happy to be part of PVPN, and thankful they saw the vision with my show, and picked it as part of the season," he said. "I'm appreciative and grateful – it's hard for a local playwright's original show to have a shot."

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