Unexpected Stage Company is taking an unconventional angle on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Rather than the titular characters falling in love in their early teens, the two are nearing their 70s.
“Romeo and Juliet: Love Knows No Age” reverses the roles of parents and children. Lord Capulet, now Juliet’s son, and Lady Montague, Romeo’s daughter, have placed their parents in a senior living community in fair Verona.
“We’re exploring this intensely passionate love among the older set,” said director Christopher Goodrich, a recipient of the prestigious Stella Adler Studio Who’s Who in Drama award. “It’s worth exploring because I think we often infantilize the elderly. We treat them almost like second-class citizens, like they’re children that can’t think for themselves.”
In this new paradigm, Romeo and Juliet have been married before. Juliet’s husband is deceased, and Romeo is in the midst of a divorce from his beloved Rosaline.
“[Unexpected Stage Company] likes to give voice to the voiceless and explore people who don’t have a huge voice in society,” Mr. Goodrich said of his play’s elder lovers. “I think this [play] is ringing true for that.”
Ken Lechter, who plays Romeo’s foil, Paris, noted that Western society has a dilemma known as the “sandwich generation,” in which “you’re caught between the generation below you and the generation above you — and you’re being pulled in both directions.”
“In non-Western cultures, the appropriate thing is for the parents to live at home,” Mr. Lechter said. “Whereas in American culture, the grandparent doesn’t want to put himself upon his children and wants to maintain independence, and is therefore very happy to live in the [nursing home] system.”
Lord Capulet, whose wife is pregnant, is part of this sandwich generation as he yearns to “unburden himself from his aging mother so he can focus on his own life,” said Clare Shaffer, assistant director.
The dynamic between Juliet and her son is “a struggle that a lot of people will be able to relate to from both perspectives. It’s sort of about that space and what we will do to get it,” Ms. Shaffer said.
“You come full-circle from a child who is being nurtured by your parents to a parent being nurtured by your child,” she said. “What [does that do] to you psychologically?”
The play is set in a modern-day nursing home, but keeps Shakespeare’s language and setting in fair Verona. The tension is reset into just one building, with the characters “living together amid the chaos and death that comes with the show,” Mr. Goodrich said.
“This is not your normal senior living community,” he said with a laugh, “[and] you’d probably not want to live here.”
Mr. Goodrich said it is “hard to divorce the play” from its original setting.
“It’s sort of iconic. Shakespeare decided to set the play in Italy — the reason for that is complete passionate, romantic love,” he said.
“How does love change when you get to be that age, and how is falling in love different? Do people fall in love in these senior homes, and what’s life like in that space?” are among the questions Mr. Goodrich hopes to explore in this play.
“I hope that [audience members] come to see senior citizens differently, that [they] are people who are worth our time and investment and to stop patronizing them,” Mr. Goodrich said.
Free tickets will be given to the first 110 students who present their high school or college IDs.
“We love that, because it gets youths into theater, and it also exposes them to Shakespeare,” Mr. Goodrich said.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: “Romeo and Juliet: Love Knows No Age”
WHERE: Randolph Road Theater, 4010 Randolph Road, Wheaton, Maryland, 20902
WHEN: Thursday through Aug. 9
INFO: Tickets $16 to $27.50 by calling 800/838-3006 or visiting UnexpectedStage.org/tickets