Star-Crossed Chops

Could William Shakespeare have had any idea that the suicides of two teens would take over as the standard for romantic sacrifice? Perhaps not, but Franco Zeffirelli certainly did. Especially when he saw the magic that would come from casting two "show business nobodies" in his 1968 version of Romeo & Juliet. Zeffirelli was also the first filmmaker to cast actors who were the same, or near the same, ages as Shakespeare's characters, making the tragedy trigger the tear ducts because of the realism.

And, sure, everyone knows that suicide is awful. That's why it seems so peculiar that audiences didn't react to the double suicide with negativity. We're left to presume that it's because the motivation for doing it was that elusive thing called "true love." Maybe they forgave the act because Romeo and Juliet had no one but each other to love. After all, the only "relative" Juliet was close to was her nurse--nice parenting, Mom and Dad--and Romeo seemed to have only his rather violent and over-the-top buddies. Maybe there was little negativity because the families seemed to drive the lovers to it and then were forced to learn a lesson about tolerance themselves.

The reason Romeo & Juliet--in whatever form, whatever version--surpasses the romance of a simple love lost/love found story starring Julia Roberts or one found on the Lifetime Movie Network might be because of the ingenious blend of unflinching love and heartbreaking tragedy. In print, it was startling; on screen, it's stunning. Proof of that is in the tears of audience members and the passionate reactions: "They must have truly loved each other to do that! But, dammit, if he had poison, why wasn't there an antidote!? It's just not fair!"

Zeffirelli's version is a notoriously touching take on the classic that stars Leonard Whiting (unknown No. 1), Olivia Hussey (unknown No. 2), Milo O'Shea and a young Michael York. Take into consideration that there are more than 15 other versions, from television movies to filmed ballets. Suffice it to say, the story is beloved and an ideal, if not macabre, choice for the Cine de Colores Series Valentine's screening. Viewing the 1968 Oscar-winning version is the perfect Sunday-night activity for the "Big Valentine's plan" we're suggesting for lovers. After Sunday's film-induced tears, Monday can be fun and satisfying while keeping with the theme. Café Izmir will take on the role of the house of Montague with Mama Nazary playing the role of Lady M as she and the house offer four-course meals, strawberries and champagne. Next door at the Saffron Room, executive chef Pooya Habibi plays Lord Capulet in the house of Juliet, presenting guests with a four-course meal paired with various glasses of wine (referred to as "Juliet's poison," which is odd since she offed herself with a dagger) and dessert. Death by poison or daggers, no. Gorging on Mediterranean fare, yes. And if both diners eat the hummus, their love won't be cursed by family or garlic breath.

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Merritt Martin
Contact: Merritt Martin