By Ashley Conde ’17
The story of Romeo and Juliet is deeply embedded in our cultural psyche. Artists have adapted the original Shakespearean text to different social contexts— for example, West Side Story is set in mid-century New York, while High School Musical occurs in early 2000s New Mexico. With their most recent production, the Genesians infused a hip-hop aesthetic with their Romeo and Juliet interpretation.
The production’s juxtaposition of contemporary music and lighting with traditional Shakespearean verse and sword fights attests to the play’s true timelessness. The themes of fate, love, hate, and death shine through the production’s hip-hop beats.
The production was spectacularly executed. The extended stage allowed the audience to interact with the actresses. The beautiful sets further enhanced the audience’s experience by signaling each scene change. Stained glass windows illuminated Friar Lawrence’s chapel and glowing drapery marked the night sky. The iconic balcony scene featured a cleverly-constructed, elegant balcony. Additionally, the lighting was well-planned and highlighted important moments in the play’s plot.
The costumes contributed to the production’s dubious timeframe. While some women, such as Lady Capulet and Lady Montague, donned modern dresses, others, such as Juliet, wore more traditional dress. The costumes male characters of the play were a mix of motorcyclist/cowboy/city style (my biggest question after watching the play— what were the pants made of?). As time periods converged with the costumes and sets, the audience was able to focus on the timeless plot.
The actors gave outstanding performances that demonstrated great understanding of the play. Memorizing Shakespearean verse is difficult, and the Genesians spoke their archaic lines with great ease. It was refreshing to see Shakespearean verse performed like everyday speech. The sword fighting scenes were sophisticated and enhanced the play’s realism.
Some of the play’s most poignant moments occurred as the actresses left the stage. No longer the stage yet not wholly out of the audience’s line of sight, the space between the stage ramp and the background drapes is a precarious one. It was evident that the Genesians were committed to their roles, as each left the stage without losing character. Romeo slumped of the stage after bemoaning unrequited love for Rosalind, Mercutio sauntered off the stage, and Juliet rushed down the ramp clutching her poison vial. These subtle moments contributed to the production’s greatness.
The Genesian production made me to reflect on the nature and purpose of art. The hip-hop adaptation, after all, demanded careful interpretation. The time shift, some may believe, was a bold choice that required some form of analysis or social commentary. For example, West Side Story chronicled the struggles of Puerto Ricans in New York and High School Musical commented on high school’s social cliques. The Genesian production, though excellent, left the audience without such substantive commentary. What was the purpose of making the play hip-hop? This question led me to ponder art’s nature. Is art created purely for the artist’s sake? Perhaps the Genesian production was so dazzling that it did not require any social commentary. Does art need to have a purpose (Oscar Wilde once wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “All art is quite useless”)?
To these questions, I offer the wise “Tootsie Pop” owl’s response: “The world may never know.”
Congratulations to the Genesians for their excellent performances.