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High School Theater Reunion

<bt>This weekend, adult cast and crew members of "The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet" will be transported back to high school. Although they had graduated from Lake Braddock Secondary School as far back as 1991, 30 former students returned to stage an all-alumni benefit show for the current theater department.

Circumstances had changed for these alumni. They were now college students, professional performers or members of the working world. But for the performances on July 31 and Aug. 1 and 2, at Lake Braddock, they will be back where their love for theater began.

"I think everybody has that place in their heart for where they started from," said Jon Cohn, a 1991 Lake Braddock graduate and director of "Romeo and Juliet". "It makes this one special that we all come from the same place. A lot of us didn't know each other, we went to school in different years. We came back not because we were buddies, but because we were trying to contribute to the current program."

The money raised from this weekend's production will aid the Lake Braddock Theater program in hopes that drama classes will inspire current students in the same way that alumni like Cohn had been inspired.

"I got to act with the department, do light, sound and sets," said Cohn, of his time in high school. "I was very active with the department for two years."

Cohn continued his studies at Ferrum College, where he obtained a theater degree. He now works as a professional actor in D.C, with upcoming shows at the Olney Theatre and the Rep Stage, both in Maryland.

In 2003, Cohn received the Helen Hayes Award, which he described as the "Tony award for D.C." Cohn was recognized for his lead role in "The Taste of Fire" at the Charter Theatre. "It was a magical evening," he said of the award ceremony at the Kennedy Center. "Everyone puts a different emphasis on awards, but there is something very flattering to be around your peers and to receive the highest award a city can offer."

"Romeo and Juliet" is the second benefit production of the Lake Braddock Theater Alumni Company. Last year, Lake Braddock's artistic director, R.L. Mirabal, suggested an alumni show to the 200 students he had kept in touch with via e-mail. The former students who were involved in the production of the play "The Laramie Project" last year enjoyed the experience so much that they decided to make the alumni fund-raising show an annual summer event.

ELEVEN ALUMNI were cast in this year's production, and many more were involved in design and production. Cohn estimated that about 30 graduates will participate this weekend in everything from acting to ushering. Since many involved are not professionally employed in theater and have their own full-time jobs, Cohn was thankful for their participation in the month of rehearsals leading up to this event. "It's a huge time commitment that is based on generosity," he said.

Because the cast for the alumni production of "Romeo and Juliet" consisted of nine female and two male cast members, Cohn had to find a way to stage the play for a nontraditional cast. He decided that a way to allow the actors and the audience to focus on the story without distractions would be to stage the play in a modern-day classroom. The characters read the story in class, acting out the roles of Mercutio, Romeo and the rest until it "consumes their consciousness" Cohn said.

"He's done a fantastic job," said Mirabal, leader of the Lake Braddock theater program. "It's hard to do with nine girls and two guys, but he figured it out."

Cohn wanted to explore the piece through the duality of the characters in "Romeo and Juliet" versus the characters in the classroom. He also wanted to draw connections between the exploits of the teen-age Romeo and Juliet and teen-agers today. Despite these changes, Cohn made sure that he let Shakespeare's words speak for themselves.

"It's about telling a story, letting Shakespeare say it with his words, that were written hundreds of years ago," Cohn said. "We weren't trying to improve or rewrite Shakespeare, just tell his story with a nontraditional cast."