Romeo & Juliet in Black & White on Broadway

I’ve been looking forward to reading the reviews from this new production for a while. It’s not the first time a director has cast R & J as an interracial couple. There was an Ovation Award-winning version at the Theater at Boston Court here in LA a few years ago taking place in the antebellum south, and I’m certain many a college and small independent theater has addressed ‘race’ in their productions. But this is Broadway – and a Broadway show has the potential for impact on a large scale. So I was intrigued when I learned that film star Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean) and the emerging theater star Condola Rashad (nominated for a Tony for Trip to Bountiful, daughter of film and theater actor Phylicia Rashad) would be playing the tragic lovers. How would the director, David Leveaux, address the Mixed experience in this production? How might audiences react to the casting of a ‘white’ man falling fatally in love with a ‘black’ woman (an atypical depiction of an interracial couple in contemporary media). The New York Times review mentions ‘race’ in a brief paragraph: “That one of them is white and the other black may underscore the division between their families, yet it registers as irrelevant when they’re together.”

It’s not clear whether the reviewer sees this irrelevance as a good or bad thing, but it disappoints me. I’m still waiting for a production that takes on historical racial oppression. Even in the comments to the review, there is barely any mention of how this production addresses ‘race.’ In fact, I would suggest that some commenters’ opinions that the lead actors lacked chemistry may have more to do with their own discomfort in seeing intimacy by an interracial couple, than in the performances by the actors.

Granted, Shakespeare’s play is so well known that really addressing the behemoth that is racism will take skill, creativity and indefatigable research by a director and cast, but until then I am going to watch for the independent theaters and college presentations – who just may have more courage to do so.