The small theater company in West Philadelphia has altered Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” by making both Romeo and Juliet female. The same-sex romance has attracted a lot of online hate mail.
“These people should be hunted down and killed,” wrote commenter “Max Fisher” on the website PhillyMag.com, the online home of Philadelphia Magazine.
Progressive theater companies have long toyed with Shakespeare’s works, staging all-male or all-female productions of the Bard. By doing little more than changing all the “he” pronouns into “she,” the Curio Theatre Company changed the character of Romeo into a woman, tranforming the story into one of lesbian teenagers in love.
Director Paul Kuhn says when a man and a woman walk on stage and smile at each other, audiences have come to expect some sort of romantic energy. Playing Romeo and Juliet as two women alters those expectations of the audience. Some may not viscerally read the romance when it first appears.
The cast discovered other, unforeseen changes.
“A lot of the interchange between Mercutio and Romeo — the sexuality mentioned in the script — comes alive in this production, which is traditionally played by two men,” said Kuhn. “That was a surprise to us, actually.”
Also surprising was the amount of hate mail the play received online, even before it opened. The conservative news aggregate site The Drudge Report picked up the PhillyMag.com story, which mentioned that the play is performed in a room of a Methodist church on Baltimore Avenue. (The theater company is a tenant of the building, and not associated with the its religious activities.)
The posting attracted thousands of comments, many of then condemning the same-sex play with homophobic, religious, and racist language, including at least one overt death threat.
“Particularly for opening night, we were very concerned,” said Kuhn. “You really have to take these things very seriously. And we did. We contacted the University City District district — they have safety ambassadors. We had two outside outside our doors opening night. We had to shut down the Facebook page of the woman playing Romeo, and the woman playing Juliet. We were concerned about their safety.”
Kuhn says since the play opened on schedule on Oct. 11, the online furor has simmered down. The run ends Nov. 2.