William Shakespeare’s tale of star crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, transcends time and has inspired many adaptations. At the Lonny Chapman Theatre in NoHo, Shira Dubrovner has directed a version set in 1930’s Berlin, with Romeo a German boy and Juliet a Jewish girl, in the time leading up to the Holocaust. Sprinkled with rarely seen slides depicting the times through facts and photos, the audience is shown the progression of the era’s propaganda of hate.
It takes a moment to adjust to Shakespearean dialogue in this setting, but soon we are immersed in this familiar love story. Although he is in a Nazi uniform at the play’s onset, Romeo is more interested in love than political issues. Juliet falls hard for Romeo, not caring that his family and hers are mortal enemies. Their love is doomed, not just because of family hostilities, but because of the growing sickness that was Nazi Germany.
Dubrovner has taken on a formidable project, and it is not without a few hiccups, but the direction is smooth and the acting professional. As intense as it was, perhaps the play could have been whittled down a bit. But the message was not lost: Romeo and Juliet were the victims of unjust hatred.
Shakespeare’s original version was family versus family; West Side Story pitted the Sharks against the Jets; and here, the Nazis hating anyone different from themselves. This view of pre-Holocaust Germany shows how one man, Hitler, slowly convinced an entire country to believe in him and his values. Frightening, isn’t it?
The Group Rep’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm through October 14 at the Lonny Chapman Theatre located at 10900 Burbank Blvd. in North Hollywood. For tickets and information visit TheGroupRep.com or call (818) 763-5990.