by DICK CHENEY
creator Heather Mitchell
It was my genuine mistake that I thought this show was going to be about if Romeo and Juliet lived and entered into a completely unhappy marriage, with Juliet still upset about the residual effects on her concentration from imbibing the poison. When Romeo and Juliet died in Still Star-Crossed, I was in shock, because I figured this would finally be the interracial romance that would work out well for everyone involved, unlike every single time Kerry Washington falls in love with a white man.
Replacing Romeo and Juliet as the stars of Still Star-Crossed are Rosaline Capulet (Lashana Lynch) and Benvolio Montague (Wade Briggs). They are roughly the same size, and they wear very similar outfits. The plot of Still Star-Crossed is somewhat confusing – a member of each family died because everyone could not accept their love. Yet in this show the Montagues and Capulets decide to force their families to intermarry, even though the couple in question is not in love at all. Nor do they hate each other, they are just kind of neutral when it comes to all this.
Still Star-Crossed is the brainchild of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee writer Melinda Taub, who wrote the YA novel from which this is all abstracted. Sadly, even Ms. Taub appears to absolutely loathe this adaptation of her work. She never talks about the show on her twitter, just tells people nervously to buy her book. This is a sad deal, since Shakespeare can really be improved on, as you have recently seen with the Democrats who regularly have Donald Trump stabbed to death by a bunch of minorities. Considering pretty much everyone in the New York theater industry is a liberal, I expected more subtle commentary on current events, like maybe Twelfth Night with Trump as Duke Orsino.
Still Star-Crossed probably would have been a semi-decent TV movie, but it is hard going to sit down for the entire forty minutes of this show. At some predictable point in every episode, the writers get tired of the fake Shakespearan lilt to all the dialogue and one of the women is just like, “Wanna get something to eat?” The show is also fond of stealing lines from Shakespeare’s other plays to spice things up. There is even this one part where someone must have wholesale copied an anti-Semitic monologue from The Merchant of Venice.
Shakespeare was never my absolute favorite or anything, and it seems like he is finally fading out of most curriculums. The reason is that he is not super great at writing for women and some of his racial attitudes were a wee bit retrograde. Or maybe The Tempest is proto-Amiri Baraka: I didn’t major in semiotics, people.
I had this one teacher who was just crazy about Falstaff, I have no idea why. Even Orson Welles made this guy look like a bumbling fool. I have learned to detest writers who turn tragic circumstances into comedy, and the reverse as well, but that was until I saw Still Star-Crossed. I mean, this was destined to be a comedy – Melinda Taub is a veteran of the UCB theater.
There are some jokes in Still Star-Crossed. At one point Benvolio tosses this crazy guy who killed a bunch of people off a building – the man’s body is dashed on the parapets below. Rosaline is looking down on the corpse with something like regret, and Benvolio deadpans, “Did you forget he tried to rape you?” I’m sure she didn’t want to be reminded of that, but as rape jokes on network television go, I suppose it was fine.
In another subplot, Juliet’s father (Anthony Stewart Head) keeps seeing her as a ghost. When he finally tracks the girl down, she says, “Beware.” Instead of asking what he should beware, he just stands there with a goofy look on his face. What a weird show.
The costumes and environments remain weirdly inconsistent throughout Still Star-Crossed. Even though everyone involved in this story should ostensibly be of the nobility, Benvolio usually looks like he is wearing rags he picked up off the floor, and it is impossible to tell which Capulet is the servant and which is the master from their mode of dress. At one point I was pretty sure a man was romancing a princess of some sorts, since she was wearing a frock from the Jasmine collection. When he tried to kiss her, however, she told him that even though she was a servant, she was still a lady. Perhaps she meant that literally.
I really try to give Shonda Rimes the benefit of the doubt, even though it’s obvious that her major influence on this project is to make the cast pleasantly multiracial, except no Asians. With that said, no one ever brings up race at all in Still Star-Crossed. At first this seems fine because who cares if we’re not going for a historical look at this period, but in practicality it means that ethnic differences, even national differences, cannot be acknowledged as part of the plot. Even though from all appearances this is a show about a race war, the core conflict can never be described in those terms.
I think what is really hurting Shakespeare is that he does not have that one solid IP to hang his hat on. Hamlet is very pretty to listen to, but it is depressing and somewhat of an Oedipus Rex ripoff if I’m honest. Richard III is shit. Falstaff was a mistake. The comedies are about as humorous as T.J. Miller’s stand-up. Macbeth is kind of fun for an act or so but it all gets a bit predictable, doesn’t it? Julius Caesar is wretched and hackneyed. King Lear was probably his best play, but it makes no sense now and is incredibly sexist. Othello is decent, but no one has ever been like, oh my god, I am so psyched for Othello tonight. I think he probably should have written some more uplifting work.
Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.