Interplayers' final show of the season, scheduled for June 2006, will be Romeo and Juliet, directed by Braden Abraham, who guided very successful productions of The Underpants and True West during the past two seasons.
This will be only the second time in its 25-year history that Interplayers will have attempted a Shakespearean tragedy -- the first time, of course, being Nike Imoru's Othello this year.
And Nike's going to play Mercutio, Romeo's boisterous friend. (Perhaps actors disappointed at Interplayers auditions will be rooting for whoever gets to play Tybalt.)
What will be the effect of such gender-bending, non-traditional casting? With _a woman_ advising Romeo to be cynical about romantic love and idealism, perhaps that will make Juliet's head-over-heels passion seem all the more remarkable -- and, in a harsh world, all the more difficult to achieve. With a _black_ woman giving that advice, perhaps that will highlight the privileged status of romantic love: In a society full of class and race divisions, only wealthy white aristocrats have the leisure to pursue idealized notions of romantic love. (Which of course would be overlaid over the playwright's obvious concern with the tussle between aristocratic arranged marriages and the freedom to choose one's own spouse for romantic and erotic reasons. If marriage is an economic arrangement, then it makes perfect sense for Mr. and Mrs. Capulet to decide whom their 13-year-old daughter shall marry. Within a comfortably middle-class 21st-century American context, we assume we're free to marry whomever we want. But in fact we overwhelmingly marry within the confines of our own social classes. We're nearly as constrained as Juliet was back in 14th-century Verona.)
Most of this pedantic moralizing may of course be rendered moot by Imoru's casting decisions. If she doubles and triples roles extensively -- mixing and matching genders, races and ages in an obvious bid to save on payroll but also to tweak our assumptions about a classic play -- then all kinds of complicated entanglements could shed new light on our assumptions about romantic love, parent-child relationships and teenage suicide.
Size of cast, makeup of cast, amount of role-doubling, the "look" of the show -- Imoru has a lot of decisions to make long before the show opens. The competing visions of Franco Zeffirelli's Renaissance film (1968) and Baz Luhrmann's 1996 postmodern approach (in the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes) -- each probably seen by more people than all the stage versions in history combined -- make audiences aware of the wide range of choices available to a director.
Not to mention that Imoru will have to learn all of Mercutio's lines. At least he/she is dead before intermission.