North Star Journey

From Verona to Nogales with a Latino adaptation of ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Actors Samuel Osborne-Huerta (R) helps up Paulina Aparicio-Rosales (L)
Actors Samuel Osborne-Huerta (right) with Paulina Aparicio-Rosales (left) during a rehearsal of "Romeo and Juliet: Love in a Time of Hate" at the Baker Community Center in St. Paul on June 6.
Stephen Maturen for MPR News

“Romeo and Juliet” has been reimagined countless times. The musical “West Side Story” relocated the tale to blue-collar Manhattan, while director Baz Luhrmann colorfully stylized and modernized the play in his 1996 film “Romeo + Juliet.”

Twin Cities theater company Teatro del Pueblo’s adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” goes beyond changing the location and period.  

 Director Alberto Justino (R) laughs with Paulina Aparicio-Rosales (L)
Director Alberto Justiniano (right) laughs with Paulina Aparicio-Rosales (left) during a rehearsal.
Stephen Maturen for MPR News

Called “Romeo and Juliet: Love in a Time of Hate,” the show has been rewritten to include characters speaking Spanish and performing spoken word poetry — and centers Latin American culture.  

“We thought that, you know, the main thing is to take Shakespeare, tweak it, but maintain that beautiful language,” said co-director and co-adapter Alberto Justiniano.

The new play adds elements to Shakespeare’s tragedy, including examining the treatment of the working class and the range of ideologies within Latino communities.  

“One of the things that I was hoping to bring is that connection between the Spanish and the Shakespeare,” said co-director Harry Waters Jr.  

The play began with a treatment by Justiniano and was then workshopped over a number of years through a method called “devised theater,” where a core group of artists gave their input and changes.

That spirit of collaboration has extended into the rehearsal room.  

“I’ve always opened up that opportunity for actors to give us an unfettered, and, you know, uncensored reactions and their ideas. And then we sort of flesh them out and see which ones can actually work to help the story,” Waters added.  

Issac Quiorga (C) works through choreography
Isaac Quiroga plays the character Santi in a new adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet."
Stephen Maturen for MPR News

The play still features famous moments, including Romeo and Juliet’s chance encounter at a party hosted by Juliet’s parents and the couple’s secret wedding. This production also includes new moments and characters, including a fast-talking narrator named Santi, inspired by southern California cholo culture.  

“The language is a combination from the old Bard ... But there’s also free verse, and then there’s spoken word,” Justiniano said.  

The idea of “Love in a Time of Hate” came about nearly six years ago, when Teatro Del Pueblo discovered there was interest in Shakespeare among Latino actors in the Twin Cities. At first, Justiniano was perplexed.  

“But it got me thinking, what if we were to take Shakespeare and make it our own?”

The show is a collaborative effort with the Minnesota Chapter of the Bach Society, which will provide music for the show. Marco Real-d’Arbellas is the associate artistic director of the Society and has overseen finding compositions for the play.

“It’s kind of going through the centuries and just picking up and finding these connections with London, Italy and Latin America,” said Real-d’Arbellas.

Actors work through choreography
Actors work through choreography during a rehearsal.
Stephen Maturen for MPR News

Taking music that spans centuries and styles, including opera and Latin American folk music, Real-d’Arbellas is mixing both old and new music to engage audiences.

“It’s just a real nice mashup of music and languages, which I think would really help the action of the play.” 

The show’s setting is the future, with dystopian themes, in the city of Nogales on the border of the United States and Mexico. It is ambiguous as to which country it takes place in, however. The cast features a supermajority of Latinos.

“There’s a couple of people that this is their first time being on stage,” Waters said of the cast.

“What I was truly struck with at the first read-through, is that there was a roomful of brown people in the Twin Cities, who had never all worked together before.”

Abigail Chagolla plays Juliet’s nurse in “Romeo and Juliet: Love in a Time of Hate.” The show is an opportunity for her to play a character who, like herself, is Latina.  

“I’ve only had, like, three other opportunities where I actually got to play a Latina woman,” Chagolla said. She adds that being in a show that is so heavily Latino has been beautiful — both because of the shared experiences of the cast, but also the differences.

“Latinidad, it’s a spectrum, right? Like, not everybody comes from the same sort of background. And so it’s not a monolith. And being able to get different types of experiences in the room and then have those experiences used in the show is very beautiful.” 

Actors work through choreography
Actors work through choreography.
Stephen Maturen for MPR News
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.