While there have been quite a few versions of the classic Shakespearean play Romeo and Juliet, none have been this odd.
Honestly, we’re still wrapping our heads around this one, so let’s break it down, piece by piece: A production of Romeo And Juliet featuring non-binary performers (Okay, cool and inclusive idea—we’re intrigued!)… set in Nazi Germany (Ugh, really? Why?)… had to apologize for omitting Jewish actors from its casting call. Seriously, was no one involved concerned at any point during this process?
The production in question was announced recently by the London-based Icarus Theatre Collective, and it’s one that sounds pretty wrong-headed from the jump. This version of the Shakespeare classic would reimagine Juliet as a persecuted young Jewish woman who nevertheless falls for Romeo, a member of the Hitler Youth, during the height of the Third Reich.
See, already we’re heading into extremely murky territory. As many have noted, Shakespeare’s original text asserts that Juliet’s family, the Capulets, and Romeo’s Montagues, were “two households, both alike in dignity”—long-feuding families who nevertheless had much in common. To equate that to the plight of the Jewish people in Nazi Germany is just a fundamentally erroneous and problematic idea. Still, the theater pushed forward… for some reason.
To the Icarus Theatre Collective’s credit, it’s said that the play was to be receiving a major overhaul for this production, edited “to show a lack of balance between the two families and to ramp up the disparity until one family destroyed the other.” But that’s far from the only issue facing this Romeo And Juliet.
n fact, the dubious production didn’t seem to garner much attention at all until it put out a casting call, advertising for “non-binary artists, and/or those of global majority, black or Asian heritage.” The conspicuous omission of Jewish artists in the call had many up in arms, and led to the theater issuing an official apology on October 31:
“Please accept our profound apologies for neglecting to mention performers of Jewish background are preferred for the Capulets,” the theater group said in an official statement. “This was the initial intention; the director is Jewish and our intention has always been to include this casting preference, as it is fundamental.”
On Twitter, they further elaborated: “Our [Romeo And Juliet] is a criticism of Nazi fascism (& its particular relevance today) made in consultation with the Jewish community, including the director. Our casting director removed key information and we failed to notice.”
In conversation with The Jewish Chronicle, the production’s director, Max Lewendel, shares that the casting call put forth by the theater was a “draft” and the omission a “mistake.” A revised call has since been shared, specifying that the company is seeking a “male or non-binary presenting” performer for Romeo, and an actor to play Juliet who is “preferably of Jewish background.” Additionally, they’re looking for a male or non-binary performer to play Mercutio, and a “female presenting” actor to play the role of Tybalt, who is traditionally male.
Look, we’re all for inclusive casting that invites in queer, trans, and non-binary performers, but even with those clarifications, this Nazi Germany-set re-telling of Romero And Juliet sounds like one big train wreck waiting to happen.
The U.K.’s Jewish News reports today that the Icarus Theatre Collective has made the decision to pull the controversial production from its schedule, though an official notice has yet to be posted by the theater group.