I am an aficionado of unadulterated Shakespeare. However, I was intrigued when invited to review the National Asian American Theatre Company’s (NAATCO) presentation of Romeo and Juliet, written in a modern verse translation by award-winning Hansol Jung.
Rivalry and Love
Many consider Romeo and Juliet one of the greatest tragedies, where rivalry and love take twists and turns. Yet, Jung’s version opens as a comedy, with the audience laughing at every line, knowing the sad outcome of the tale as the play begins. This version also presents music, singing, physicality, and pleasures to the eye and ear with modern clothing. In addition there’s rapping, a disco ball, and actors wearing animal head costumes and knight helmets, to mention a few. Every character in this performance is indeed complex, like the original.
T-Rex Fluffy Slippers
Traditional characters appear on stage from Shakespeare’s original play like Mercutio (Jose Gamo), Benvolio (Zion Jang), Friar Lawrence (Purva Bedi), and Tybalt (Rob Kellogg). Some also play the tuba and drums, and even hold large flashlights to illuminate actors on stage. While Romeo (Major Curda) strums his guitar and sings to the audience, Juliet (Dorcas Leung) strolls on stage in T-Rex fluffy slippers and jeans. Moreover, this presentation was captivating, and the audience connected immediately with performers.
When Romeo serenades Juliet, the lovers are on the path to destiny, and Curda’s voice and ethereal smile are spellbinding. Likewise, Leung, with a gilded birdcage on her head, has an enchanting voice. There is a much symbolism in the choice of headpieces, while instrumentation adds a new verve to this 16th-century masterpiece.
What fascinates lovers of authenticity are lines from the original Shakespeare play dispersed throughout this new translation. For example, Romeo speaks, “What light through yonder window breaks?” Thus, this is part of one of the most famous soliloquies ever written. Next, Juliet reminds us of one of her most famous lines as she cries, “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?… in Act II, scene 2. Nevertheless, by including these two lines and others, Jung acknowledges that some well-loved lines can never be forgotten or omitted from powerful stories.
Jung’s interpretation doesn’t challenge the work of Shakespeare’s classic but enhances it. Thus Jung brings her version to a new audience, with a final standing ovation proving her success.
NAATCO, in partnership with Two River Theater, presents ROMEO AND JULIET by William Shakespeare in a modern verse translation by Hansol Jung.
Directed by Hansol Jung & Dustin Wills, with original music by Brian Quijada.
Scenic design by Junghyun Georgia Lee
Costume Design Mariko Ohigashi
Lighting Design by Joey Moro
Sound Design by Megumi Katayama
Dramaturgy by Aaron Malkin
Fight Direction by Rick Sordelet
Music Direction Nygel D. Robinson
Production Stage Management by Hannah Woodward
Assistant Stage Manager Kevin Jinghong Zhu
Production Management by Lindsay Child
Technical Director Steven Brenman
Casting by Zee Casting
Press by David Gertsten & Associates
Graphic design by Kate Katigbak.
Romeo and Juliet plays at the Lynn F. Angelson Theater, 136 East 13th Street, New York, through June 3rd. Running time is 2 hours, 35 minutes, with a 10-minute intermission. Note some adult material.