Romeo & Juliet: A Very Short Review

 Free theater is a more ancient tradition than paying for the show. The plays of Aeschylus and Euripides were staged by rich Athenians, as an offering to Dionysus and Apollo and for the glory of the polis. It was more akin to a religious worship than the way we go to see The Avengers at the multiplex. Attendance was so important that the state would pay poor people to attend.

The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC also does this, every summer now for more than a quarter-century. This year their free offering to the polis is that warhorse of high-school English class, Romeo & Juliet, and I was delighted to score tickets on line. The other way to get it is to simply show up and stand in line at the box office for tickets, which is more onerous. Email is definitely the way to go!

There are a good many film versions of this classic tragedy, but stagings are more rare. This one was great, with a late 20th-century costuming and set and some quite realistic stage combat, with switchblades rather than swords. And the crucial casting decision was made correctly. The star-crossed lovers have to look young. According to the text Juliet is 14, and Romeo is no pillar of male maturity either. The entire plot is rocket-fueled by adolescent lust and short-sightedness. If the actors look like they’re 35 it would be plain that they were lunatics and the production would collapse. When they look like they’re in their mid-teens then we can believe everything else.

But one can trust the Shakespeare Theatre Company to do this right. Like all good  English majors I can recite aloud large chunks of this play, and it is an enormous pleasure to see how the text acquires meaning and vim on the stage. This work was never meant to be read. It was meant to be seen!



About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


Romeo & Juliet: A Very Short Review — 2 Comments

  1. Just for the sake of quibbling, stagings are really not more rare: it’s just that incalculably fewer people get to see each individual staging. But I’ve seen at least two dozen R&J’s on stage, and maybe three film versions?

  2. It’s a staple of high school English classes in the US (JULIUS CAESAR in 9th grade, MACBETH in 10th, R&J in 11th, HAMLET in 12th) and nearly everyone gets to see the movie version because it’s difficult to haul a classful of surly teens to a theater. And expensive. A thrilling modern development is when the really popular productions (HAMILTON for one) makes an effort to make showings available to students. Somewhere around here there must be a site that keeps track of which Shakespeare play is most often staged.