You’d think we’d be over our love affair with “Romeo and Juliet” by now. Teenage courtship sure isn’t what it used to be. It feels like you’re more likely to meet someone on OkCupid than at a swanky party. The closest equivalent to the insurmountable romantic conflict posed by the warring Montagues and Capulets we could ever face today would probably be matching with a Trump supporter on Tinder.
Yet the play remains as popular as ever, with both theater companies and audiences. The latest production, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, is up to the challenge of making a play about “passion, heartbreak, love, blood, in all its extremes,” as director Alan Paul put it, resonate with today’s audiences.
“Everybody still has that thing inside them that wants that something,” said Andrew Veenstra, who plays Romeo. “It’s just innately in the human condition to want that love, that match, that significant other, that person.”
“Society is getting muddier and muddier, so when you have those sparkles of pure, truthful love or hope or peace or whatever it is, it’s so much more profound,” he continued. “Hopefully that’s what we can accomplish here.”
The cast and crew opted for a modern production that “appealed to kids today,” Paul said. He wanted to make sure “that kids came into the theater and felt that Romeo and Juliet looked like them.” Indeed, Veenstra wears his own T-shirt onstage, and the cast is in modern dress. The scarlet-red set is more New Jersey nightclub than Renaissance Italy.
And it helps that Juliet more closely resembles a modern, headstrong woman than the doomed damsel of old. “She is elegant, but I think that she’s often done a little bit more demure, and I tried to make her a closer to who I am sometimes,” said Ayana Workman, who plays Juliet.
“I think she’s real, I think she speaks her mind, I think she’s fierce.”
Romeo and Juliet is playing at the Shakespeare Theater Company until Nov. 6.