‘Romeo and Juliet’ Meets the Hot Vax Summer

A lusty new production is both an enticement and a warning as we tentatively explore intimacy after a year of forced solitude.

By Maya Phillips

What will be the idiom, in my modest estimation, to best define our relationship to sex during the Covid-19 pandemic? “Stay home if you sick, come over if you thicc” — so say the boys of Tinder.

It’s not quite Shakespeare — or is it? I’m willing to bet that if they lived in 2021, Romeo and Juliet would quickly become fluent in our contemporary language of lust and seduction. After all, sex has always been an element of Shakespeare’s play, though portrayals of it have changed in productions over the last 400 years, depending on trends and cultural attitudes.

So it would make sense, after the pandemic year we’ve had, that we’re in for a spate of sexy Shakespeare — frilly ruff and all. And “Romeo and Juliet” — including the lusty new filmed production that premiered last week on PBS — looks like it’ll be the play of this spicy summer to come.

I’ve already encountered other renditions in the last couple of weeks: the Public Theater’s bilingual “Romeo y Julieta,” the Actors Theater of Louisville’s “Romeo & Juliet: Louisville 2020.” An interactive production is forthcoming from England’s Creation Theater.

Though a play about intimacy, yearning and death feels right for the moment, I have to admit my discomfort with all those honeyed kisses and sweet nothings: The pandemic has left me unprepared for lovers meeting at any distance closer than six feet.

The sexiness of “Romeo and Juliet” depends not just on a director but on the temperature of the times, whether the drafty climate of a chaste family dinner with Granny or the febrile blaze of a Friday night date set to a playlist of ’90s R&B jams.

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