For its ninth season, Curio Theatre Company is exploring gender roles, beginning this weekend with the new production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Despite being written as a heterosexual love story, Shakespeare’s play has a long history with crossed genders: In the Bard’s day, of course, all female roles were played by male actors, and in later years Romeo has been played by women, dating at least as far back as the mid-19th century, when sisters Charlotte and Susan Cushman played the star-crossed lovers.
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So when Curio approached Krista Apple-Hodge about directing the play, they undoubtedly expected a more traditionally untraditional cross-dressing female Romeo, especially since company member Rachel Gluck seemed ideal for the role. But then history intervened.
“Curio came to me within a week of the Supreme Court passing its ban on DOMA,” Apple-Hodge recalls. “I realized that putting a woman on stage and pretending that she’s a man just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel honest to the world that we’re living in today. So I thought we should have a woman play Romeo as a woman and see where that takes us.”
As it turned out, it didn’t take the play very far from its original intentions. Little beyond gender pronouns had to be altered to fit this new interpretation. “We’ve made some other contextual changes to fit the contemporary setting, but other than that the text is the same and we’re doing Shakespeare’s play,” says Apple-Hodge. “For me, the story actually started to make more sense because I suddenly understood why these two young people really thought it was a better idea to fake their own deaths than to talk to their parents.”
Apple-Hodge takes advantage of the architectural features of the Calvary Center, the converted sanctuary that Curio calls home. That approach ties in with the work she does with her own company, the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective. “We’re not big believers in artifice,” she explains. “We have film and television to take us into completely different worlds, so we can very openly and honestly look at the audience and say we’re a group of actors and artists about to tell you a story.”
The Curio production is set in the modern day, depicting a Verona where the old world and new world coexist. Apple-Hodge explains, “If you got on a plane right now and went to Verona, what would you see? In Europe, they’ve got centuries-old buildings with people standing in front of them using cell phones. So we took that as a starting point for our approach, recreating this sense of a world that has been around for a long time, but whose people have grown and changed and adapted.”
'Romeo and Juliet'
Tonight-Nov. 2, 8 p.m.
Curio Theatre Company
4740 Baltimore Ave.