Backlist Review: YOLO Juliet by Brett Wright, William Shakespeare

Sunday, April 16, 2017
Title: YOLO Juliet
Author: Brett WrightWilliam Shakespeare
Genre: classics, humor
Series: OMG Shakespeare #1
Pages: 112
Published: May 26th, 2015
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.75/5

Romeo and Juliet, one of the greatest love stories ever told . . . in texts?!
Imagine: What if those star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet had smartphones? A classic is reborn in this fun and funny adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays!

Two families at war.
A boy and a girl in love.
A secret marriage gone oh-so-wrong.

and h8. The classics just got a whole lot more interesting. ;)

tl;dr A Shakespeare play told through its characters texting with emojis, checking in at certain locations, and updating their relationship statuses. The perfect gift for hip theater lovers and teens.

A glossary and cast of characters are included for those who need it. For example: tl;dr means too long; didn’t read.

There's a story in the history fandom that Romeo & Juliet was originally written as a comedy. The tale goes that when Shakespeare originally put on the production, then a satire of the Greek-inspired tragic love stories that were en vogue in Elizabethan times, his patron/the audience/whomever saw the play didn't get it. Instead of laughing at the absurdity of two thirteen-year-olds bringing about the mutual destruction of their families in less than 48-hours, the audience was weeping over our eponymous teens. Shakespeare, biting his thumb at those who didn't appreciate his brilliance, rewrote and expanded the play into what we know now, but left enough snark in that those smart enough to read between the lines would get it. While it's true R&J went through substantial rewrites, of course there's no proof the play was ever meant to be completely humorous. If anything, its status as a tragedy IS the subversion. The first two acts set up a comedy (happy) ending, (think Shakespeare's other instalove plays, Much Ado... and A Midsummer Night's Dream,) before Mercutio's death sends our heroes careening into death and the destruction of their houses.

That's not to say R&J is a super serious story or that it was written for a particularly high minded crowd. The first few acts have a decidedly comedic flair as Willie makes a point to show this feud has reached absurdity, with party crashing and servants passive aggressively starting shit in the street. This is obviously best illustrated by the thumb biting scene which, translated into the modern tongue, proves to be not that deep:

“they can say whatever the hell they want I don’t care I’ll say ‘fuck you’”
“did you just flip the bird at us?”
“I did flip the bird, yeah”
“but did you flip it at US?”
“yo bruh if this starts a fight how easily can I get out of trouble”
“not very”
“So like I flipped the bird but it TOTALLY wasn’t at you”

I definitely see how the "secret comedy" rumor got started.

We as a society have studied Shakespeare for so long that his work has been universally elevated, even the dick jokes and middle fingers. Like Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes , Yolo Juliet is a book that sets out to demystify a subject through comedy. It plays the story big and broad with an absurdist bend, emphasizing the quick nature of the relationship and Romeo's mercurial romantic feelings.

The first two acts work shockingly well. The texts between Benvolio, Mercutio, and Romeo feel like a bunch of bros at a party. Romeo accidentally "checking in" to the Capulet house, leading to Tybalt seeing his status was a really funny way to do that interaction. I DIED at Lady Capulet signing all of her messages. It's such a mom thing.

The fifth act, however, is a complete fail. The texting conceit falls apart when everyone is in the same place. Paris' death is very clunky, one line he tells Romeo if he comes to the tomb they'll fight, the next "#dying ... RIP, me." Plus the Facebook death update had already been used for Tybalt so it felt done. I also hated the last relationship status update and the comments from the living cast. It felt corny.

The book is short - 92 pages devoted to the play. Obviously things are left out. The Queen Mab speech is reduced to two sentences. The "bite my thumb" scene, which seems tailored to the conceit, is also missing. You'll get the broad strokes, but not the nuances. What I'm saying is, don't use this as the SparkNotes for your English paper, unless your teacher has a real sense of humor.

Parts of Yolo Juliet are really funny and I think it's great to look at the classics with a bit of levity. I know the Globe Theater is modernizing a lot of the Bard's works, combining modern costuming and music with diverse sexualities, races, and genders to bring in a new, younger audience. I mean, this is a playwright who, once you realize "no thing" was a double entendre, performed a play called "Much Ado About Vaginas". <i>Yolo Juliet</i> is what he would have wanted.

Emma Rice's 2016 Bollywood-inspired A Midsummer Nights Dream at The Globe Theatre

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