Romeo, Juliet & Baltimore

After that Saturday evening’s violent prologue, a fortnight ago in Baltimore, my family and I went downtown the very next day and saw blood on the streets and young dead men cut down in their prime. The city had been turned upside-down. Alas, we were inside Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s beautiful theatre on Redwood and Calvert for a Sunday matinee of Romeo & Juliet.
But while the city was Verona, the scene inside the walls of the theater was a somewhat apt metaphor for what had been taking place outside the evening before and continued on into the days that followed.
Love had been snuffed out. Violence and hate had marred the stage and in reaction to it, like our Mayor and city leaders—in Act I, the Prince spoke to it thus, “Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace, Profaners of this neighbor-stainèd steel!” Here “steel” had the meaning of steel yourselves and your emotions. Hold back and refrain from violence. So apart from the fancy lingo, it could have been a scene snatched off a CNN clip or a YouTube post easily referencing our own hometown. And in a way it was.
Except that the following day hate and violence did show their ugly countenance. Businesses were set ablaze and neighborhoods that had been scarred by riots years ago, were again in flame.
The social and economic root causes of what happened in Baltimore are deep rooted and complex. They go beyond Freddie Gray’s death. Yet if we are to live in this city and respect it, the same young people who burnt it must first and foremost love it. One great and effective way to do that is to emotionally reach young people with the arts. It humanizes. It strikes the heart. It puts love first.
Art, music and theatre are currently thriving in Baltimore—from the new home at The Everyman and Broadway shows at The Hippodrome to concerts on Pier Six and Patterson Park’s Creative Alliance—the list goes on and on.
Frankly, to have a Shakespeare theatre in the heart of Baltimore is a cultural Jewel—a gift meant for everyone. Prior to the show, the Managing Director came on the stage and thanked the audience for overcoming the fear felt by many in the community by coming out and for showing our support. She also spoke about how CSC is making Shakespeare available to students all across the city—most people never have had the opportunity to see it live. How lucky they and we are.
Romeo & Juliet is of course a tragedy about love struggling to overcome hate. We all know how it ends—with two dead kids. But perhaps it was my own perspective and I’ve seen some productions where an air of cynicism reigns at the end, yet in this production, when Lords Capulet and Montague shake hands I couldn’t help but get a sense of hope for the future.
Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at