A Spanish/English Duel: “Romeo & Julieta”

The first kiss. Gorgeous artwork by Eric Davila.

ROMEO Y JULIETA
Presented by The Public Theater
By William Shakespeare
Adapted by Saheem Ali & Ricardo Pérez González
Based on the Spanish Translation by Alfredo Michel Modenessi
Directed by Saheem Ali
Bilingual podcast to be presented in partnership with WNYC Studios
Featuring Carlo Albán (Benvolio), Karina Arroyave (Apothecary), Erick Betancourt (Abram), Michael Braugher(Balthasar), Carlos Carrasco (Lord Montague), Juan Castano (Romeo), Ivonne Coll (Nurse), John J. Concado(Peter), Hiram Delgado (Tybalt), Guillermo Diaz (Gregory), Sarah Nina Hayon (Lady Montague), Kevin Herrera(Ensemble), Modesto Lacen (Prince Escalus/Capulet’s Cousin), Florencia Lozano (Capulet), Irene Sofia Lucio(Mercutio), Keren Lugo (Sister Joan), Benjamin Luis McCracken (Paris’s Page), Julio Monge (Friar Lawrence), Javier Muñoz (Paris), Lupita Nyong’o (Julieta), and David Zayas (Sampson).

Available to stream 
The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
(at Astor Place)
New York, NY 10003
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Critique by Kitty Drexel

Disclaimer: Romeo Y Julieta is an audio recording. It does not include video.

PODCAST ETHER — There’s always one theatre company or other doing Shakespeare. Take your pick: community, fringe, professional – someone, somewhere is producing a four-hundred-year-old play for an audience absolutely arm-wavingly, script humpingly horny for The Bard. I don’t get it. 

I don’t hate Shakespeare but I don’t get the hype either. His plays are performed so often – as intended and in experimental styles. No matter how a theatre dresses them up, they’re still the same stories. I think it gets old. Others strongly disagree. 

What is it about this dead poetry dude who hasn’t had a new idea in centuries that appeals so strongly to my fellow theatre practitioners? I don’t have to understand Shakespeare-mania to critique Shakespeare’s plays but understanding the obsession helps me interact with that population. Understanding a creator’s intentions is part of a critic’s gig.  

The Public Theatre’s recording of Romeo Y Julieta doesn’t shine a light on my conundrum. But! It does remind me that there are still people who will enjoy Shakespeare but don’t know it yet. The right theatre-makers have to make the right production at the right time to reach those people. Determining who those people are and indoctrinating them into the cult of Shakespeare should be tantamount to the believers’ mission. Thursday’s Romeo Y Julieta proved to be one such recording. 

Romeo Y Julieta is a bilingual production in both Spanish and English. Unlike many other productions that boast dueling languages, Romeo Y Julieta is bilingual in equal amounts. The script for the production is available on the Public website.

There is as much Spanish in the adaptation by Saheem Ali & Ricardo Pérez González as there is English. English lines retain some of the original dialogue by Shakespeare. The Spanish, as far as I could tell, does not. Iambic pentameter as Shakespeare intended does not exist in this production. Those expecting it will be deeply disappointed. Retention of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter is not the point of this recording. Sharing the story to a new audience is. 

My Spanish language skills are dreadful. I know enough to get myself into some truly imaginative trouble but not enough to understand the entire play reading. I know the plot of Romeo & Juliet so I got along fine. Listening to the Public Theatre recording became an exercise in appreciating the work the actors were doing in both languages. 

Lupita Nyong’o was fine. Her acclaim as an actress is deserved, but she doesn’t show off playing Julieta. Julieta -an almost fourteen-year-old girl raised in a predatory community that champions child brides- is impressionable and not grown into her power as an adult woman. She’s a virginal fantasy. Nyong’o was given a great platform but couldn’t flex in a role originally intended for boys training as apprentices. 

 Irene Sofia Lucio as Mercutio, in contrast, delivers a genius performance. She’s adapt at chewing meaning out of words and phrases that are otherwise innocuous. She makes meals out of her dialogue with and about Tybalt (Hiram Delgado). Her lines in both Spanish and English are examples of how new things can be done with old scripts. Her death scene was epic. It’s worth listening to this recording for this scene if for no other reason.  

Juan Castano as Romeo epitomizes the teenage, male condition. His portrayal had me asking “Where are Romeo’s parents?” Seriously, if Romeo is between the ages of 16-21 then he definitely shouldn’t be unsupervised with only a celibate priest to guide him.  Castano drove home just how irresponsible Romeo and his supporters are. R&J isn’t a romance; it’s a tragedy. 

If performing Shakespeare’s plays is done in part to share the good news of Shakespeare, then it is paramount that Shakespearean practitioners spread His plays in ways that new audiences can comprehend. You know, like Alexander the Great did while conquering the known world. You can beat them and join them.  

It hurts exactly no one to make Shakespeare more accessible. If a person feels slighted because Romeo Y Julieta isn’t in the style of the first folio, is too modern, doesn’t feature a dancing bear in a wig and pink bikini, etc. I humbly suggest that the snobs with these opinions gird their loins for greater life disappointments. This isn’t about you, Chad. Shakespeare for you already exists. Let newbies have Romeo Y Julieta. 

Many years ago when I was but a wee freshman in high school, I played Juliet in our high school English class reading of Romeo & Juliet. Our teacher, Mrs. Kochien, introduced the play by saying that anyone who had seen the 1996 Baz Luhrmann film should immediately forget that they saw it. 

Mrs. Kochien, a purist, hated that film. She told our class that she took her AP English students to see it in the theater and walked out twice. She refused to discuss it further. She said that we could take our weak, hormone-fueled passions for this badly adapted Shakespeare play about weak, hormone-fueled teenagers to the trashbin where they belonged. Mrs. Kochien would hate Romeo Y Julieta. And that’s fine. 

Romeo Y Julieta is not for the Mrs. Kochiens of the world. It’s not for people like me. Romeo Y Julieta is for the people who speak enough English to understand the flow of the source poetry but require the Spanish version to truly digest the story. 

Romeo Y Julieta will be made available with Closed Captions and Spanish subtitles. If you have questions or concerns, need assistance, or an accommodation not mentioned above, please contact us at accessibility@publictheater.org.

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