As part of the Boston Univeristy School of Theater’s season, Femina Shakes is currently (as of the authorship of this article) performing Romeo and Juliet. I encourage anybody to go see this interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragedy of lovers.
Femina Shakes is a way for female students to gain access to roles that would not normally be accessible to them under the rules of traditional gender casting. They may explore power dynamics, authority, violence, and politics without the constraints of gender.
I have never seen their previous work before (Julius Caesar, Titus Andronicus, and Henry V), and I deeply regret it. Walking into Studio Theater 352 this evening, I expected to be having a conversation, a discussion, an exploration into gender roles, into the misogyny of Verona, or the falsehood of the patriarchy. With this in mind, I noticed words like “man,” “woman,” “boy,” and “girl.” I was actively looking for the conversation that I wanted to have with the piece, but the piece was not meeting me for such a discourse.
This was a fight. There is no other way to say it other than that it was a fight with the performance. E.F.‘s Visit to a Small Planet came to mind, which discusses how plays exist in a separate world and how wanting the text to perform in a manner which it wasn’t intended will ultimately make it fail.
However, it wasn’t until halfway into balcony scene that I realized that I had stopped fighting. Subconsciously, I had accepted E.F.’s Visit to a Small Planet. I was watching as an audience member; there was a story enfolding in front of me that I was experiencing.
This performance uses gender, but not in the way I expected. Sure, gender acts as an equalizing force; if nobody is male, then there is no patriarchy, no authority based on gender dynamics. Father, Prince, Count, Mother, Nurse, Friar are all meaningless titles. So what does this mean for the text? Romeo and Juliet allows for this transcendence of gender. These characters become more real than if the production had been traditionally cast. The prologue suggests that fate ultimately undoes these two lovers, but “star-crossed” brings to mind something more ephemeral than two people, or two lovers.
Essentially, Romeo and Juliet at Boston University School of Theater strips the original text down to the most reactionary meaning while keeping the text intact. Motivation, character, power, emotion become more accessible, more empathetic, more painful, more visceral. Every bit of that deconstruction is illustrated in the set design, the costuming. Everything is about what the text actually means without the precepts of preconception.
This is the kind of theater that I want to see more of, and more of in environments that are less experimental and sheltered.