I think we can safely dismiss Alyssa Rosenberg from the list of serious people
Slate Magazine’s Alyssa Rosenberg can be taken off the list of serious people. She reviewed an updated, politically correct version of Romeo and Juliet (I know) and still found it wanting. The fault is not with the stars, but with Shakespeare.
Romeo and Juliet itself hasn’t aged well. The story follows Juliet Capulet, who is 13 when she meets Romeo Montague at a party, falls head over heels in love with him, and marries him within a day of meeting him. Romeo’s age isn’t specified in the play, but the quickness with which he throws over a former flame for Juliet doesn’t suggest a particularly mature man. Maybe this works on the page, when we’re not forced to watch actors and actresses who are clearly in their 20s and 30s behave like early teenagers. But the effect is embarrassing and unsettling for today’s theater audiences, perhaps already fretting over suspended adolescence and stunted millenials.
Update the play to match the aged-up actors in the two main roles, and the plot still doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why are the families fighting? What was the inciting incident? The absence of a reason does mean that adaptations can fill in space that Shakespeare left behind, making the warring parties Puerto Rican and Polish-American, for instance, or Israeli and Palestinian. But even then, having the two lovers kill themselves through a series of misunderstandings doesn’t translate well in a setting that takes any sort of modern communications for granted. And it’s hard to believe the couple, no matter how lovelorn, would lack the patience to wait 24 hours to get hitched—not to mention the savvy to check up on a bad report from Verona.
Try not to laugh yourself off your chair with the last line of the review.
An interracial Romeo and Juliet is nice, but black actors and actresses deserve richer roles than Romeo and Juliet.
Unfortunately I have to assume the correction appended to the end of the article is not self-parody.
Correction, April 3, 2012: Due to an editing error, this post originally referred to Leveaux’s production as “race-blind.” A more apt term is interracial, as actors’ races were taken into account during casting.
Wait until next week when Rosenberg complains Hamlet doesn’t appeal to modern audiences with the invention of Prozac.