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Beauty herself is black: A diverse cast joins the Bard for ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Celina Colby | 7/26/2017, 10:36 a.m.
Brandon Green, the production’s Benvolio, says he hopes having more black actors on stage will bring a new layer of ...
(l-r) Gracyn MIx, Ramona Lisa Alexander and Celeste Oliva in "Romeo and Juliet." Evgenia Eliseeva

The cast of "Romeo and Juliet."

The cast of "Romeo and Juliet."

Kai Tshikosi and Brandon G. Green in “Romeo and Juliet”

Kai Tshikosi and Brandon G. Green in “Romeo and Juliet”

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For more information about the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s “Romeo and Juliet” including cast bios, visit: commshakes.org

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company takes on the classic “Romeo and Juliet” for this year’s Shakespeare on the Common performance. Through August 6, the troupe puts on a show every day except Mondays, free of charge on the Boston Common. Though the text remains unchanged, the diverse cast brings a glow of modernity to the classic.

Brandon Green, a “Scottsboro Boys” alum who plays Benvolio, says, “I rest well knowing that black and brown kids are gonna come see the show and see black actors.” Green was surprised by how much more powerful the deaths of black characters become within a racial context. The duel scenes take on a new life within a contemporary frame of reference, where African American bodies fall daily and unjustly.

Ramona Lisa Alexander as Nurse, Equiano Mosieri as Friar, Kai Tshikosi as Tybalt and Chris Everett as Lady Montague round out the black performers. Green says that casting Everett as a figure of wealth and class was another big step. “Seeing our skin reflected in royalty is amazing,” he says. The cast extends beyond African American talent. Celeste Olivia, Lady Capulet, is part of the East of Hollywood Production Team that concentrates on diverse casting, including films for Asian Americans.

The story of forbidden love in “Romeo and Juliet” continues to resonate 420 years later. When Romeo, a Montague, and Juliet, a Capulet, fall in love, their warring families keep them apart. Their desperation to be with each other generates their eventual undoing. The bigoted and foolish rivalry between the families is mirrored in our political sphere, wherein parties spar with no compromise in sight — even at the expense of human life.

But beyond the political parallels, the theme of young love rings eternal. “Who hasn’t been in love to the point where it feels like it’s the only thing in the world?” says Green.

Green hopes that having more black actors on stage will bring a new layer of gravity to the work. His identity as an African American actor affects all of his work, which he seeks to convey in “Romeo and Juliet.”

“It affects my awareness whether I’m walking through the streets of Verona or 2017 Boston,” he says. “When anything happens in the news affecting black bodies, that’s going to inform my performance.”