The Public Theater in New York City has released a new audio production of William Shakespeare’s classic play Romeo and Juliet called Romeo y Julieta. The bilingual audio play features a mostly Latino cast, including Academy Award-winning Kenyan Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and Colombian American actor Juan Castano (TV’s What/If) as the star-crossed lovers.
For director Saheem Ali, who adapted the play with Ricardo Pérez González, increasing the accessibility to Shakespeare has been a passion of his throughout his career.
“Whether that means putting people on stage that you don’t normally associate with Shakespeare or putting in languages that you don’t normally associate, I feel like there are so many ways we can increase how folks appreciate and fall in love with and see themselves reflected in these beautiful plays,” Ali said during a conversation with WNYC about Romeo y Julieta.
Nyong’o met Ali during a production of Romeo and Juliet in 1997. Both are originally from Kenya. She says the two of them have talked about creating a bilingual version of the Shakespeare classic for years. This is the first time Nyong’o has acted using the Spanish language, but she said it has been a “harbored desire” for her for a while.
“I don’t think I would’ve redone this play if it wasn’t for the newness that Saheem offered in it,” Nyong’o said. “Adding the Spanish to it allowed me to approach the text in a fresh way. I speak Spanish, but to speak Shakespeare in Spanish is a whole other thing.”
Along with Nyong’o and Castano, other actors who were cast in the audio play include Tony Plana (TV’s Mayans MC), David Zayas (TV’s Dexter), Guillermo Diaz (The Terminal), Carlos Carrasco (Speed) and Irene Sofia Lucio (TV’s Madam Secretary), who flips the script by taking on the character of Mercutio.