I saw the Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of Romeo and Juliet (R 'n'J) last week when my mom was in town. It was interesting to see yet again something that you know so well. I took Shakespeare in college, and have read a great many of the plays, and have seen many on stage as well, but none do I know so well as R 'n'J. Why? It's because of a simple thing called puberty.
I was nothing short of obsessed with R 'n'J in middle school. First of all, reading Shakespeare was difficult and gave you an intellectual heft unheard of for most middle schoolers. Second, everyone knows that R 'n' J is the most absolutely totally romantic and passionate plays of, like, ALL TIME! Or, is it?
When I was 13, I had "reading" (which is an interesting class to have at 13–at that point, doesn't English class suffice?) with Miss Bruno. Miss Bruno was sooooo worldly and wonderful. She was young and hip but yet mature. To think of it, she was probably under 25…which is frightening for me now, so we won't think about that. Miss Bruno bucked the system (sort of), and thus was a hero in the mind of pre-teen. She was an art student and teacher who wore long palazzo pants from the Limited (the height of sophisticated fashion), lacy shirts, and granny boots. It was in her class that we read Shakespeare. To be specific, R 'n' J. We memorized–without prompting–the balcony scene. In fact, the picture below is a picture of Mollie and me practicing (can I hear a "boy you're brave"? I mean look at that 'fro!). Mollie's holding up her copy of "The Complete Shakespeare. "We were planning to do a mini production of the play. I don't think it ever came to fruition. Mostly because the girls all wanted to be Juliet and as you can imagine, NO boys wanted to be ANYTHING.
Miss Bruno showed us Franco Zefferelli's film version. She couldn't have been too against the system, because she stopped the tape and fast forwarded past the love scene/naked breasts. This caused us much chagrin because of course, that was one of, like, the MOST romantic and sexy scenes of them all. I think she eventually relented and showed us part of them being in bed, but no naked breasts. This of course completely removed any point of the whole thing for the boys.
I can still to this day recite the balcony scene "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo. Deny thy father and refuse thy name…" or at the very least say it along with the actors. Unlike the people who insist upon humming along with the opera [I'm talking to YOU old man beside me at La Traviata!!!} I resisted doing this.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company's version used all male actors, as they did in Shakespeare's time, as acting was too vile for a woman. I heard many people from the audience at intermission say it was "overacted," but in some ways, that is the point.
Part of R 'n' J is comedy. It is a comedy of the absolute drama that accompanies adolescence. Indeed, the sillness that is romantic love in general. People in adult relationships realize that love ain't this dramatic. If yours is, congratulations, I think.
The serious note is that when this drama is taken to its end, it is because of the greater silliness which is violence, machismo, and the hatred adults hold against other adults for ridiculous reasons that even the involved parties can't remember. In that, it has applicable lessons for our own time.
Top: Photo by Mrs. Rock, author's own collection. Bottom: Photo by Scott Suchman, Shakespeare Theatre Company Web site.