Our problem with Romeo and Juliet has never been muddling through the now-obsolete Elizabethan dialect. Nor is it the overacting that usually accompanies it. It's not even the men in tights. Our problem is more fundamental. It's plot. We just want to scream: Hello, you're teen-agers. You're not in love. You're infatuated, in lust, in crush, whatever. Get over yourselves. But that wouldn't make for much of play: Boy meets girl. Boy gets with girl. Boy and girl break up when they realize they're teen-agers and they should really just get over themselves. That's why Shakespeare's got a cool nickname like The Bard and we don't.
In the Junior Players' production of Romeo and Juliet, which ends the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas' summer season, actual teen-agers (24 actors from 13 high schools, in fact) play the star-crossed lovers and all those other people whose names we get confused. The catch here is that, instead of being from rival families, this Romeo and Juliet are from rival gangs. Yeah, just like in Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. The upside is that the two gangs wear bandanas, which helps with the remembering who-people-are thing.
Having a teen cast might help our problem, too. We'd like to think that the actors--still blushing with the joy from their own puppy love romances--will be able to add some tenderness and endearing naïveté to the series of bad decisions Romeo and Juliet make. If not, there's always the rap and hip hop music that will be serving as a soundtrack to the Bard's follies. We're down. To the unschooled ear, rap and hip hop lyrics probably make as much sense as Shakespeare's own slang.
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