Romeo e Giulietta: A Unique Take on an Old Classic

By Claudia Muratore (University of Virginia)

A play that’s been reproduced, reimagined, and reinterpreted countless times since its original conception, Romeo and Juliet is no stranger to the stage. As I settled into my seat in the Teatro della Pergola exactly a week before Valentine’s Day, I prepared myself for a classical production of what is arguably one of William Shakespeare’s most renowned love stories. Yet as the curtain rose, I immediately became aware that I was in store for something quite different altogether.

Teatro della Pergola’s grunge-chic twist on this classic tale of love and death attempts to modernize the play while still retaining its original character; in doing so, they’ve created a rendition that is constantly endeavoring to reconcile contrasting aesthetics and ideals, thereby providing an apt reflection of a play that describes the attempted union of two lovers from rival families.

The production utilizes a simplistic set, but the detail that the scenery lacks is made up for with emotionally charged acting, technical quirks, and masterful employment of light and shadow. The minimalist set provides both an aesthetic and symbolic backdrop for the performance, with twin two-story glass houses (with the labels “Montecchi” and “Capulet” handwritten in a jagged red scrawl across the top) serving as the setting for the entirety of the play, save for a few occasional moving props.

Much of the fresh and modernized feel of the play draws from the tone set by the trendiness of the exposed steel beams and wide glass walls of the two familial dwellings. At the same time, the set serves a symbolic purpose, with the glass of the houses signifying the fragility of Romeo and Giulietta’s relationship, and the transparency of the walls revealing the matriarchs and patriarchs of their respective families within: removed from the action, but constantly watching and standing guard over their children.

The plot itself stayed relatively true to the original script- save for a few sporadic musical numbers and a rather unconventional final scene in which Romeo and Giullieta pass a cigarette back and forth as they sit atop a coffin, silently commiserating over their impending deaths as David Bowie’s “Rock n Roll Suicide” plays in the background.

Giullieta’s nurse provides some much needed bouts of humor in an otherwise rather depressing story, and the cast engages the audience particularly well as characters run through the aisles of the theater during particularly dramatic or action packed scenes, extending the small set to the entirety of the theater.

The play deals with some of the more crucial scenes (such as Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting, the infamous balcony scene, and Mercutio’s death) in two distinct ways- either through highly emotional shouting matches or silent pantomimes, in which often only the silhouettes of the characters are visible- the variation I found to be more profound and striking.

Teatro della Pergola’s Romeo e Giulietta provides an eclectic mix of modernity and tradition in their rendition of the play. This unique take on an old classic is a creative and engaging production that makes for a great evening.

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