Deaf actors make this 'Romeo & Juliet' a truly bilingual love story

Posted September 7, 2023


Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | September 7, 2023

With its warring families and star-crossed lovers, Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet" wouldn't seem like the place to look for a vision of a more inclusive society.

But in American Players Theatre's new bilingual production, Deaf characters and American Sign Language are a normal part of daily life in the world of Shakespeare's play. The Capulets have a beef with Romeo, but it has nothing to do with his deafness.

As Romeo, Deaf actor Joshua Castille, who adapted Shakespeare's text with director John Langs for APT's production, communicates throughout the performance in American Sign Language (ASL). So does Robert Schleifer, a Deaf actor who portrays Friar Lawrence, Romeo's avuncular confidante.

In his program note, director Langs writes that he was inspired to create a show with Castille as Romeo after seeing how "immediate and soulful" the actor was in a different production, communicating in ASL.

This bilingual approach elevates Shakespeare's story, said Isabelle Bushue, who plays Juliet. "I think it's an incredible theatrical device on so many levels," she said. The two young lovers must bridge both their parents' hatred of the other family and the language barrier between them, she pointed out.

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