Romeo, Revisited

Wherefore art thou, Romeo?
New York Magazine
March 13, 2045

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: yes, in Broadway’s latest iteration of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is an alien. And no, that doesn’t necessarily make it worth the ticket price.

There’s been a great deal of publicity about the casting in Enrique Valdez’s new production of the Bard’s greatest tragedy. Who’s going to turn up an opportunity to see America’s most famous Jovian playing Shakespeare? Ever since his high-profile defection to the United States, Jova’s own Benedict Arnold has been printing money with his concerts, lecture tours, and public debates—and while he has never tackled the Bard before, it’s not hard to see why the alien who took the name ‘Odysseus’ upon moving to New York would be interested in exploring his classical side. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, a producer’s stunt casting dream is a director’s nightmare.

The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet draws most of its power from its senselessness: a feud between two families that are essentially, in all the ways that matter, the same. When the young lovers look past that meaningless hatred, they recognize a fundamental humanity in each other that allows them to fall in love. Casting a non-human actor as the doomed hero of this love story therefore becomes a remarkable statement. Valdez clearly wants his production to ask whether we and the Jovians are really so different—and after five years of increasing hostility with our intergalactic neighbors, some might say that it’s a question that needs to asking. It’s also a question that deserves more genuine consideration than Valdez is able to provide within the context of a production that attempts to substitute shock for stagecraft.

Though you might not know it from the publicity, the production does contain a number of human actors, most of whom have a reasonable amount of talent. Rosa Barrymore’s Juliet, in particular, shows in her scenes with Lady Capulet and the Nurse that she is worthy of a better production. However, her most impactful moments are simply drowned out by the elephant in the room. The rest of the cast is no better served. The normally reliable Bowie Kim, as Benvolio, all but disappears behind a set of truly unfortunate Jovian prosthetics, and even the magic of Lou Enzinotti’s Queen Mab speech falls flat when directed towards a blank-faced representative of a species that doesn’t dream, let alone sleep.

It’s a truly alien Romeo and Juliet, and—in this reviewer’s opinion, at least—alienating is one thing that Shakespeare should never be.

MSTP Romeo and Juliet to close early
Minnesota Playlist Online
June 14, 2051

Although originally scheduled for a two-month theatrical run, the Moving Shakespeare Theater Project’s Romeo and Juliet will be closing on July 1.

MSTP cites slower-than-expected ticket sales as the reason. MSTP’s immersive productions are expensive to run, and the few available Jovian actors command increasingly high salaries as demand for their services increases. Sales for MSTP’s R&J may also have been hurt by the Minneapolis arrival of the Broadway touring company, currently starring Relena Nyong’o, Flittin Kittin, and the Jovian who self-identifies as Romeo in the now-classic Valdez production.

The production could also have suffered from rumored conflict on-set between local human and Jovian cast members in the wake of the attacks on New York last May. Due to its distance from Earth’s coasts and unpredictable oceanic weather, Minneapolis currently plays host to the United States’ largest Jovian community of defectors and self-declared neutral trade advocates. These Jovians claim to reject their government’s hostile expansionist policies. However, for many, recent events have called that neutrality into question.

MSTP’s executive producer, Luisa Singh, declined to comment on whether backstage tension had anything to do with the show’s early closure.

All advance tickets for dates between July 1 and August 1 will be refunded.

Luna City Theater: Yasmin Black Presents
The Moon City Sun
November 14, 2063

Whatever complaints you may have about what’s going on in Luna City, it’s been a frankly fantastic year for theater. From the Nobel prize-winning autobiographical documentary theater piece Brooklyn Sinking, The Big Guy Thinking, and Me Still Drinking, to the Tony-sweeping hit musical revival Annie-Lu, ticket sales are up all across the Great Gray Way.

Still, when we ask up-and-coming director Yasmin Black if she’s worried about whether or not her new production of Romeo and Juliet has the chops to stand out against such a strong range of competition, she just smiles.

“I don’t want to say that this is a Romeo and Juliet like nobody’s seen before,” she tells us. “It’s definitely a Romeo and Juliet that people have seen before. That’s the point. People are going to recognize this show, because people here have lived it.”

Unlike many recent productions, Black’s Romeo and Juliet, now in previews at the New Hirscheld, won’t put any Jovians on stage. “Theater’s spent a lot of time recently looking up and out,” Black says. “I think sometimes it’s important to look around you. I wanted my production to show the changing face of Luna City itself.”

As far as we’re concerned, she’s succeeded. Ethel Kaminsky, as Juliet, might have walked right out of Selene South. Meanwhile, Tamara Jean’s Romeo, with her linguistic code-switching, reminds us of just how many of Luna’s inhabitants are still struggling to adjust to a colony that’s having an equal amount of trouble figuring out how to welcome them in the wake of military and climate catastrophes on its parent planet. Credit is also due to playwright Minette Mervil, who provided assistance translating Montague monologues into Creole.

Luna City’s seen its share of violence in the past few years, and the the link to to Shakespeare’s Verona, unclean with ‘civil blood,’ is an easy one to make. Nonetheless, Black warns against drawing too many straight lines: “It’s common these days to take Romeo and Juliet as an allegory. I want to remind everyone that it’s not an allegory. It’s a love story.” If the production looks like it’s making points about charged race relations in a city half-full of Earth refugees, Black says, that’s just to make sure the story feels genuine to a Luna City audience.

Black’s disclaimers come off as a little disingenuous. When Tariq O’Neal’s Mercutio curses Verona’s two most prominent households for bringing about his death, it’s hard not to hear it as some level of indictment for Luna’s crisis mismanagement. Politics aside, though, the chemistry between Jean and Kaminsky sizzles, and O’Neal’s a genuine scene-stealer.

So, if you can only see one show this season, should you make it Romeo and Juliet?

Although we might say yes, don’t ask Black. “I loved Brooklyn Sinking,” she says. “And people might say Annie-Lu is kitschy, but there’s a reason Annie’s been revived so many times, and it’s telling a story people respond to. Honestly, Luna City’s only growing, and I think the more people can see themselves reflected out there on stage, the better!”

Reporting once again from the front lines of civilization
By Jove!
July 18, 2099

You’re probably bored of Romeo and Juliet. I’m bored of Romeo and Juliet. But let me tell you, faithful readers, if there’s one way to overcome that, it’s to go see the very first attempt at putting on Romeo and Juliet as a work of Earth-style theater on Jova Prime. It’s entirely possible that you’ll be horrified, but you certainly won’t be bored.

You might think the fact that Jovians don’t experience gender, romance, or partnering as humans define it would put a crimp into the production and storyline. Let me promise you from the start that this is definitely not the case. While “kiss” doesn’t quite translate into Jovian, the Jovians seem perfectly happy borrow the English word and demonstrate the intended meaning through context: an extended collaboration or teaching ritual in which a member of one productive unit provides another with the knowledge of a valuable skill that the second individual did not previously possess.

What, that’s not what ‘kiss’ means? Well, if you want to try telling the Jovians, go ahead. Personally, I’m kind of tickled by an R&J in which the ball scene has to stretch for an extra ten minutes while Romeo scopes out Juliet’s knitting talents.

(If you’re surprised by the knitting reference, you might want to check out Dana’s most recent post in By Jove’s Crafts and Culture column on the trend for increasingly complex, semi-competitive knitting among high-ranking Jovians—pretty interesting stuff. But I digress.)

The point is, true love really does conquer all, and even for a species whose definition of love is so far away from ours that it’s essentially untranslatable. In fact, to hear the Jovians talk, you’d think that the play had been written for, by, and about Jovians—unitary-developmental social structure and all. The interpretation of the wedding night scene sure is something. What exactly, I don’t know, but definitely something. When Romeo misinterpreted Juliet’s catatonia, and strangled themselves with their own external backbone, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. (Metaphorically speaking. Jovians don’t actually cry, but trust me, when you’re in a theater full of emotionally distressed Jovians leaking their hormones out their pores, you’re aware of it.)

On opening night, a Jovian of my acquaintance came up to me. “I’m very impressed that you’re making the effort to be here,” they said—very kindly, the usual thing, wanting to make very sure that we advance-vanguard types are assimilating well and appreciating all the cultural benefits that Jova will be providing to us conquered Earthlings now that we are, technically, citizens. “I hope you’ll get something out of the performance. It’s a very Jovian story.”

And honestly, if you see it performed on Jova Prime, it is. I would say it’s worth the trip—if you can get the diplomatic clearance, and you happen to have a couple million simoleons to blow on the flight and the insurance and the special breathing apparatus. Also, if you’re one of the people who still gets a panic attack at the sight of a Jovian war cruiser, it might ruin your experience a little. Still, you’ll certainly never look at Romeo and Juliet in exactly the same way ever again.

Welcoming the future by remembering the past
The New Guardian
January 11, 2115

Over the past six hundred years, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater has been burned down, demolished, rebuilt, bombarded by warships, flooded, and demolished again. This Friday it opens its doors once more to the public with a new production of—what else?—Shakespeare’s enduring classic Romeo and Juliet.

New Globe artistic director Indira Bachchan has chosen to set this production in the early twenty-first century: an homage to the last era in which the Globe’s doors stood open, and a recognition of a historical moment on the cusp of profound change. In the United States of a hundred years ago, the star-crossed lovers strain for understanding across an ideological divide that seems vaster than the distance between London and Luna City, while the Montagues—clad in the skinniest of skinny jeans and bright blue fedoras—and the Capulets—sporting an array of vivid red three-piece suits—play out the vicious binary politics of the period. Jojo Orrero’s costuming conveys the era distinctly and with style, and is worthy of praise. The staging makes deliberate use of anachronistic technology, consisting mostly of a flat white screen containing a 2-D digitally projected ‘window’ through which famous American landmarks can be seen. Of course, many of these landmarks no longer exist.

Touches such as this act as an elegy for a past that can’t quite be recaptured. The shadow of the present hangs heavily over this period production—sometimes quite literally, as when a shadow shaped remarkably like a Jovian warship passes over the grieving Montagues and Capulets in the closing scene, who ignore it utterly. It’s a moment subtle enough to slip past the Jovian censors, but unmistakable for those paying attention. Similarly the cast, caught up in their own interpersonal tragedies, pointedly ignore the weather events that the lighting crew skillfully evoke around them; the actors carry umbrellas, grimace up at the sky, then shrug and ignore the gathering storm.

Some might question Bachchan’s decision to set this landmark Globe production in the former United States, rather than directly tackling Britain’s own muddy history. However, the occasionally overblown American accents pair well with the square ‘hipster’ glasses and the heavy rectangular phones. Distance provides perspective, and the Verona of Romeo and Juliet has always been long ago and far away.

All the same, it’s a heavy play, and the production gives it additional weight. For those who would rather celebrate the Globe’s reopening with something a little more upbeat, don’t worry. Romeo and Juliet is only scheduled to run for a month, after which it will be supplanted by a rollicking gender-interrogatory Much Ado About Nothing, now in rehearsals.

It’s a relatively brief run for such a high-profile production, but that too, seems fitting for a play that focuses so closely on a pair of lives—and a moment in history—cut tragically short.

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