“Romeo y Julieta,” Saheem Ali’s star-filled bilingual adaptation of the Shakespeare classic for the Public Theater and WNYC New York public radio, is being livestreamed on Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 7pm. FREE with RSVP at publictheater.org
After the livestream, the show will be available on an open run as a podcast.
Romeo and Juliet is One of the Great Love Stories
The legendary Shakespeare play about star-crossed love is the archetypal European love story. It’s the model for countless tales that followed including “West Side Story.”
The great human stories are universal so you can set them in any human culture and they work. Shakespeare, an Englishman, set his story in Verona, Italy. “West Side Story” was set in New York City’s Upper West Side. The Jewish creative team originally set the play in the Jewish community, then reset it in New York’s Puerto Rican community. And it works.
Great human stories work whether the humans are English, Italian, Jewish, Puerto Rican, African or any other community. The great stories work because they are more about humanity than any particular group.
The Public Theater Always Says Something with Its Curation
The Public Theater produces Shakespeare in The Park and many new theater productions that capture the feeling of the times including “Hair” (1967) and “Hamilton” (2015).
But they don’t just produce Shakespeare. He wrote about 39 different plays. The Public Theater makes social commentary just with its selection of plays.
Then it tends to cast and produce performances in ways that make audiences think. Programming “Romeo y Julieta” now, especially producing it with people of color, says a lot about love and misunderstanding between competing groups.
Oh, and what a great way to deliver theatre during a pandemic. You can get sick right now from going to the theater, but not from listening to the radio or a podcast.
Radio also reaches back to the beginning of mass media. Today most people consume media alone. At its beginning, we consumed radio with family and friends. It had a unifying effect instead of the polarizing effect of today’s social media.
And of course, this is the age when Black Lives Matter is making many Americans open up to Black artists and Black culture. We are hungry for this.
This programming and production is some very sly commentary from the Public Theater.
Wait there’s more. The production is being delivered in English and in Spanish. Is this the future of theater?
Saheem Ali is a Star Kenyan American Director
Saheem Ali 🇰🇪 is a New York-based Kenyan American theatre director. When COVID-19 suddenly shut down performances in spring 2020, he reimagined that summer’s “Richard II” with André Holland for the Public Theater as a WNYC radio broadcast. It’s not easy material, but he really made it come alive.
Ali was born in Kenya, so he knows the immigrant experience. His name comes from Arabic. Romans loved silk. Arab traders ran the original silk and spice trade from the Horn of Africa following the trade winds to and from India. These traders ran trade around most of coastal Africa, so being African with an Arabic name may be unfamiliar to U.S. audiences, but is perfectly natural.
Again the Public Theater is telling us without words that we can produce great theatre with people from every place and every culture in the world.
This is an All-Star Production
Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o 🇰🇪 (12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Black Panther) is one of this production’s most famous actors. She’s Kenyan and was raised there, but was born in Mexico City where her father was teaching. She is fluent in Swahili, Spanish, Luo (Kenya) and English.
As famous as she is, Nyong’o was not the first actor we recognized. There’s Modesto Lacen 🇵🇷, the Puerto Rican actor who we loved as Pedro Knight, the husband of Celia Cruz in “Celia,” the Netflix bio-drama about her life, and as the reluctant father in “Esclava Blanca” (White Slave) the story of a white girl raised by a Black family in one of the palenques (quilombos or maroon villages of escaped slaves) in Colombia.
There is Julio Monge 🇵🇷, the New York Puerto Rican actor with a long resume who is known for his work with Jerome Robbins, on the choreography for the original “West Side Story” on Broadway. Monge even did some writing and artistic consulting on Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” movie which is due in December 2021.
There is Ivonne Coll 🇵🇷 who played the mom on the very funny telenovela “Jane the Virgin.”
There’s David Zayas 🇵🇷 who we know from his work on “Jesus Hopped the A Train” and “Our Lady of 121st St.”
Michael Braugher plays Balthasar. We know him from “Paradise Blue.”
Many more great actors contribute to this show. When you see the list and their faces, you will recognize many of them.
The Public Theater just keeps topping itself with the quality, diversity and thoughtfulness of its productions. Don’t miss this.