The mere mention of a season containing any play that is sufficiently dated can, I think, prompt questions about the decision. Particularly with works that are as generally well known as Romeo and Juliet, the first question I always have is: why this play, and why now? I am sure that I am not alone in this impulse. So, with these blog posts, it seems to me that it would be best if I opened with a note on some of the thoughts that our director Ann M. Shanahan and our design team had on how Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet is particularly striking for our current moment in history.
Discussion around the play began with observations on the nature of binaries as they exist in society today. In U.S. politics, we can perhaps see the sharpest and loudest examples: an incredibly divided nation has been revealed in the fallout of this presidential election, with less and less middle ground for compromise than ever (for better or for worse). This type of modern political binary can be viewed from so many perspectives, too, with the ideas of Red State vs. Blue State, Trump vs. Hillary, Bernie vs. Hillary, and Trump vs. Never-Trump Republicans. But even within these breakdowns, most are resigned to believe that there is always a binary choice, one of two ways forward.
Another confrontational binary found in modern society is the generational divide–and all the tension it entails. I’ve heard millennials called inherently lazy and soft and heard older generations hit for trashing the economy and environment. Generational warfare certainly is not new, but for many it feels more contentious now than ever.
Gender and sexuality binaries still exist as operative elements in our society, too. Youth in the U.S. have directed particular scrutiny towards the legitimacy of a restrictive gender and sexual binary system. The ideas of necessarily being male or female, and the idea of standard heteronormativity, have never been questioned as loudly in U.S. culture as they are now.
Romeo and Juliet addresses all of these binaries and more, with the feud between the two houses of Capulet and the Montegue as the overarching conflict. Our production critiques a world that sees static binaries as the only options for humanity. The idea that the only way forward is adherence to one of two worldviews or visions of the future comes under harsh attack, as we witness binarisms onstage that result in the death of our two young lovers.