“It’s free Shakespeare in the park. What more can you ask for?” actor, writer and director Justin Emeka told the AmNews. The award-winning director returns for the second season of Shakespeare in the Park in Harlem. This year, the Classic Theatre of Harlem presents “Romeo and Juliet.”
“I am inspired by great writing. Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a beautifully written romantic tragedy,” said Emeka. “It is a very familiar story. Even as I read it, I understand it. I can see this story from an African-American perspective. I incorporate things that I know into the play.”
Emeka is recognized for his ability to integrate unique cultural traditions within classical and contemporary theater. This year, “Romeo and Juliet” will be loosely based in Harlem.
“Inspiration for my work comes from the way jazz artists approach their music,” said Emeka. “John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong could all take a piece of music that was written for a Broadway show and create a whole different feel. John Coltrane did ‘My Favorite Thing’ from ‘The Sound of Music’ and turned it into something completely different.” Emeka added that he does the same thing. The play takes on an African-American, West Indian flavor. “It is an internal struggle between a West Indian community and an Afro-American community,” noted Emeka.
Sheldon Best and Natalie Paul, as the young lovers Romeo and Juliet respectively, lead the cast, which includes Jamie Rezanour (Nurse). “We have hip-hop intersected with dance hall and reggae,” he continued. The play has a spiritual element as well. “We incorporate certain spiritual sensibilities in the friar character [Zainab Jah], which is the third most important role.”
CTH again brings together a dynamic cast and creative team of familiar faces from last season’s critically acclaimed production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” along with some talented new additions.
“We are thrilled to blow the dust off this classic to reveal an array of identities within the African diaspora. Exploring centuries-old themes around love, identity, violence and masculinity through this culturally specific lens is an exceptional and unique offering for the theatrical community,” said Ty Jones, producing artistic director of CTH. “I am proud that we continue to reinvent these timeless works in ways that connect with young, contemporary, multiracial consumers while satisfying the sensibilities of longtime theater patrons.”
Performances began July 5 and will continue through July 27 on Tuesdays through Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m.; curtain call on Fridays is at 8:15 p.m., following Jazzmobile’s free concerts at 7 p.m. Performances are free and open to the public. The Richard Rodgers Amphitheater is located in Marcus Garvey Park. For more information, visit www.cthnyc.org.