Saturday, June 22, 2024

"Romeo and Juliet: Love in a Time of Hate" by Teatre del Pueblo at Luminary Arts Center

The cancellation of one show (see you in August, Skylark Opera Theatre's Marry Me a Little) allowed me the opportunity to attend opening night of Teatro del Pueblo's new adaptation of the classic tragic love story Romeo and Juliet, which they call Love in a Time of Hate. They've reimagined the Capulets and the Montagues in a border town with Latin American characters, the Capulets a powerful and wealthy political family, the Montaguez revolutionaries fighting for the people. The general story is the same, with some differences in details and characters (Romeo's a street artist, the friar is now a lawyer), and more agency given to Juliet (although not enough to refuse her parents' choice of husband). The result is a powerful and engaging retelling of this familiar story, infused with Latin American culture. I'm glad my schedule opened up so I could see it. The short run continues through June 30 only at Luminary Arts Center in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis (use code TEATRO for 35% off).

Co-directors (and presumably adaptors) Alberto Justiniano and Harry Waters Jr. employ a narrator or storyteller named Santi (an engaging Isaac Quiroga with a surprisingly lovely singing voice) to guide us through the story. He takes over the narrative early on, and appears throughout the show to set the scene, sometimes pausing the action to comment or offer advice. It's a neat device that makes the story more playful and accessible, and also allows for some commentary on the story. They follow the original plot fairly closely - Romeo (here pronounced ro-MAY-oh) is in love with Rosaline, until he meets Juliet at the party her parents throw to gain political support. She's enamored, despite the fact that he's from a rival family Montaguez, and spends the day with him, learning more about her culture and history. But alas, this is still Romeo and Juliet, so the lovers' bliss is ended with the murders of Mercutio and Tybalt, and Juliet's parents' insistence that she make a politically advantageous marriage. There's no happy ending in any version of this story, although there are some slight differences here, and perhaps some lessons learned about the dangers of these kinds of rivalries.

the balcony scene (Paulina Aparicio-Rosales
and Samuel Osborne-Huerta, photo by Molly Weibel)
The script uses much of the original text, along with some new text for the new characters and relationships, and some Spanish sprinkled in, as well as Spanish pronunciations of some of the Italian names (which is not a big leap). The play also uses styles of rap, spoken word, and even some songs. All of this infuses the story with modernity and cultural specificity, and adds a new twist to the themes.

Leading the large, talented, and mostly Latinx cast are Paulina Aparicio-Rosales and Samuel Osborne-Huerta as the title characters. Both are recent U of M/Guthrie BFA grads, and are appealing as the young lovers, Paulina giving Juliet a bit more strength and independence than we sometimes see, well matched with Samuel's dreamy artist of a Romeo. Other highlights in the cast include Kaitlin Klemencic and Julia Diaz as their respective mothers, Abigail Chagolla adding a bit of humor as the nurse affectionately called Nana, Alex Hathaway and Ben Bailey as Romeo's tough buddies, and Tyler Stamm as "Larry the Lawyer Guy" (complete with a Better Call Saul style ad) who tries to use his services to help the couple.

narrator Santi (Isaac Quiroga) with Romeo and friends
(photo by Molly Weibel)
The theater formerly known as Lab is a gorgeous space by any name; the high ceilings and brick walls work well for this timeless tale. The space is filled with massive faux-brick set pieces, including a working windmill. Juliet's elevated bedroom is on one side, allowing for the requisite balcony scene and climbing of the trellis, a series of stacked platforms on the other. A couple of large walls or fences (some featuring Romeo's spray-paint art) are moved around to create various settings. Some of the scene transitions get a bit lengthy because of this, but that just gives us more to time to enjoy the beautiful music provided by the Bach Society's five-piece orchestra (including traditional instruments like harpsicord and lute), sitting just off-stage and led by Marco Real-D'Arbelles. Completing the look of the piece are the costumes, characters dressed in modern clothing with a few fun twists, the Capulets a bit more elegant and the Montaguez in chic streetwear.

never was a story of more woe
than this of Juliet (Paulina Aparicio-Rosales) and her Romeo
(Samuel Osborne-Huerta, photo by Molly Weibel)
Unfortunately the idea of two rival groups that hate each other and can't have a civil conversation, much less see past their differences to love the human behind the identity, has never been more relevant. Romeo and Juliet has always been a cautionary tale about the dangers of divisiveness, and an inspirational one in the power of love to overcome differences. Teatro del Pueblo's interpretation brings those themes right into the present.