The Public Theater

Romeo y Julieta

Reviewer's Rating

Follow me, if you will, to Verona, for the perfect pandemic vacation. A whirlwind of lavish parties, dramatic duels, first loves, and tragic ends is just the cathartic escapism for many who are trying to stay home as much as possible — and the Public Theater’s Romeo y Julieta is nothing short of a transcendent experience. 

Adapted by Saheem Ali & Ricardo Pérez González, Romeo y Julieta is a bilingual production in podcast form (available where podcasts are found) which incorporates the original, immortal words of Shakespeare with the gorgeous, adeptly modernized Spanish translation by Alfredo Michel Modenessi. The result is a text that is even more than the sum of its parts — linguistically beautiful in not just one but two languages, preserving the deft Shakespearean English turns of phrase and poetry while augmenting and updating the play with the more accessible, upbeat Spanish lines which are modern poetry in their own right. In fact, the podcast format of the production is prime for showcasing the linguistic achievements of this production. With no visual accompaniment like a traditional play (or film or show), the words alone are enough to carry off the audience into the vivid hot July nights of medieval Italy as we watch — or rather, hear and imagine — Romeo and Julieta’s burning romance. 

The use of Spanish versus English seems to be very intentional. Some monologues or dialogues are spoken half in English, half in Spanish, bouncing from couplet to couplet or stanza to stanza. Other interactions are entirely in one language or another — such as, for example, Romeo and Julieta’s first meeting at the Capulet house, which the lovers perform in sultry Spanish banter throughout. In both languages, however, the entire voice cast is phenomenal. The world into which we are transported is rich indeed, from the poor Capulet servant who cannot read to the long-suffering Friar Lawrence. In particular, Ivonne Coll (Jane the Virgin alum) as the Nurse and Irene Sofia Lucio as Mercutio turn in excellent vocal performances, each mastering the bawdy rapport and lengthy ramblings alike of their respective characters. And of course, there are the star-crossed lovers themselves. Lupita Nyong’o sparkles as Julieta and Juan Castano is a deliciously broody Romeo. Nyong’o is mesmerizing in her delivery of the bilingual text, weaving from Spanish to English to Spanish with a lightness of tongue that conveys both the epic romantic depth of the character of Julieta as well as her tender, naive age.

The Public has always had a way with Shakespeare, and this podcast feels like yet another jewel in its well-bedazzled crown. In a time when genuine theater experiences of the past are but a memory and a hopefully-not-so-distant future, this podcast production of Romeo y Julieta is a reminder of the power of Shakespeare to reach us where we live — literally, figuratively, and in every other way imaginable. It is also a reminder that theater is not a thing of the past. Where there are exceptional creatives at places like the Public Theater or WYNC, art will continue to survive and thrive in whatever way it can.