'Romeo And Juliet': Just As You Misremembered It In a new off-Broadway production, Shakespeare's classic is retold through the fuzzy recollections of people who slept through English class. The play is more about how we remember — or thought we remembered — the greatest love story of all time, and less about who said what on that balcony or whatever.
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'Romeo And Juliet': Just As You Misremembered It

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'Romeo And Juliet': Just As You Misremembered It

'Romeo And Juliet': Just As You Misremembered It

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Linda, I have a little quiz here in front of me about Shakespeare's famous play "Romeo and Juliet." Did you read that in school?

(Soundbite of laughter)


Oh, yeah.

INSKEEP: Okay, what city did it take place in?


INSKEEP: Good. Who took the poison at the end?

WERTHEIMER: Well, everybody.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Okay. All right, fine. I believe it was Romeo, but if your memory is a little fuzzy you could be a resource here because a New York production of "Romeo and Juliet" uses none of Shakespeare's text, relying instead on the vague recollections of people who read it in school.

Here's NPR's Robert Smith.

ROBERT SMITH: The play has all the trappings of Shakespeare: a fake proscenium arch; frilly costumes; two star-crossed lovers over-enunciating every line. If only they could get it right.

Unidentified Woman: Romeo, oh Romeo, where art thou Romeo. Something or something and you are the sun. I don't remember. I don't have it memorized.

Unidentified Man #1: It is the East, and Juliet is the West.

Unidentified Woman #1: It's getting all jumbled in my head. Jumbled in my head.

SMITH: Join the club. It's Shakespeare as retold by those of us who slept through English class. Pavol Liska, the co-director of the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, had called up his friends and relatives out of the blue.

Mr. PAVOL LISKA (Co-Director, Nature Theater of Oklahoma): Pretty much everybody who would agree to be recorded.

SMITH: He asked them questions about the finer plot points of Romeo and Juliet. His co-creator, Kelly Copper, edited the conversations down.

Ms. KELLY COPPER (Co-Creator): We weren't ourselves even able to remember what happened so we went kind of in search of it.

SMITH: One of the performers in the company, Anne Gridley, got the call early in the morning.

Ms. ANNE GRIDLEY (Performer): I should be able to tell this story. I studied dramaturgy, I studied theater, I studied acting. And I found myself rather frustrated.

SMITH: It's okay. No one got it exactly right. But the recorded responses with their misremembered quotes and hazy plot recollections became the script of the new Romeo and Juliet. It's less about love, and more about how we remember love. Or how we remember what we thought we knew about the greatest love story of all time.

Unidentified Man #2: Did you ever see West Side Story? It's the same story but with Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans. And like Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans.

SMITH: Performer Robert M. Johanson gives the recollections the grand Shakespearean treatment � all tights and gesticulations. But that's the beauty of the show; everyday conversations are presented like poetry. The words balcony scene become...

Unidentified Man #2: Balcony scene.

Mr. ROBERT M. JOHANSON (Performer): People remember like an overall glaze of every famous story. But they forget these very specific details that move the story along and even things that are essential � like who dies first � or what's forgotten.

Unidentified Woman #2: How does he die? How does the brother, the cousin die?

Unidentified Man #2: Somehow Romeo gets in a fight with some guy with a very flourishy name like Euristhepis or something like that.

Unidentified Woman #2: He either takes some poison or stabs himself. I forgot how he kills himself.

SMITH: And when people forget, they start to vamp.

The best part of the interviews, the directors say, is when people start to make stuff up to fill the gaps.

Unidentified Man #2: It's sort of like Anna Nicole. You know, like, she went into the Bahamas. Do you remember when you found out about Anna Nicole? Yes.

SMITH: This particular monologue goes way off the rails. The woman who was interviewed for it came to see the production, and performer Anne Gridley says she was a little shocked.

Ms. GRIDLEY: She didn't realize that she was absolutely psychotic until she saw this show.

SMITH: It's enough to send everyone rushing back home to read the play again. Everyone that is, except the creator, Pavol Liska.

Mr. LISKA: I never read it.

SMITH: Ever?

Mr. LISKA: No.

SMITH: You've never read it?

Mr. LISKA: No.

SMITH: How could you possibly do this show without reading it?

Mr. LISKA: That's why I called people, because I was actually curious. It was about stimulating people's creativity and really finding out what is inside our brains.

SMITH: Didn't you have to go to high school? Didn't they make you read this somewhere.

Mr. LISKA: They did, but I wasn't a very good student, so...

SMITH: Okay, for all you bad students out there, Anne Gridley offers the definitive four-second version of Act 5 of �Romeo and Juliet.�

Ms. GRIDLEY: Juliet takes fake poison. Romeo takes real poison. Juliet stabs herself.

SMITH: And if my memory isn't failing me, some dude comes in and says, never was there a tale of more woe than that of Juliet and her darling Romeo, or something like that.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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