London theater cancels ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with Nazi and Jewish girl, fires director

The theater company apologized for the “offense and pain” caused to the Jewish community.

By Debbie Reiss, World Israel News

A London theater that sparked outrage over a production of Romeo and Juliet set in 1930s Germany in which the star-crossed lovers are a Nazi Youth member and a Jewish girl has canceled the play “with immediate effect,” and fired its casting director over the play’s controversial casting call.

The play’s Jewish director, Max Lewendel, said the Icarus Theatre Collective “apologized and are deeply sorry for the offense and pain we caused to the Jewish community.”

“We recognize that we’ve made mistakes that have resulted in the Jewish community and Jewish artists feeling excluded and being hurt,” Lewendel, whose father was a Hidden Child during the Holocaust and whose grandmother was murdered by the Nazis, said..

The show was scheduled to run in March 2023.

The Icarus Theatre Collective put out a casting call on Twitter on Friday and was met with backlash over the new take on the Shakespearean classic.

One person tweeted: “I wonder, did anyone in whatever meeting this was dreamt up in stop for one minute and think “Hmmm, Nazi boy and Jewish girl in a remake of Romeo and Juliet. Is this really a smart thing for us to be doing?'”

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Another quipped: “This new Romeo and Juliet Nazi idea feels so genuinely like a 30 Rock episode that I simply have to laugh at the absurdity!”

While a third denounced the use of the Holocaust as “deeply misguided.”

“Romeo and Juliet as the story of impossible love in the Holocaust? Using the Holocaust as framing for “the most hopeful of love stories” dismisses every single bit of history of systematic murder and inhumanity,” the social media user wrote.

“Please rethink this crass and appalling idea,” another tweeted, and citing the opening line in the play, said, “‘Two households, both alike in dignity?'”

Both the theater and the play’s Jewish director, Max Lewendel, apologized for the wording of the original casting call, which failed to mention Jewish actors while calling for “non-binary artists, and/or those of Global Majority, black or Asian heritage” as part of the theater’s “ongoing efforts to ensure our on-stage team is representative of the wider UK population.”

Lewendel, who is also the founder and director of the Icarus Theatre Collective, told the UK-based Jewish Chronicle that the omission of Jews was a error by his casting director.

“It should have said on the Capulet characters a preference for people from the Jewish community. If that’s not there, that is a mistake,” he said.

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“Oh s**t,” he said, while looking at the webpage. “I’m looking back on it now, and yes, that has been removed. That was in the first draft. I didn’t notice when it got removed.

“Apologies from us. Our first draft had it, we don’t know how it went wrong. We are correcting that as soon as possible. That is absolutely not what was intended, and apologies to anyone that was understandably affected by this.”

The first draft reads: “In defiance of their entire society and in secrecy from their closest friends, hopeful young lives burn amidst a cataclysmic backdrop of impending war. Sun and moon shine down on star-crossed lovers as a Jewish girl falls for a member of Nazi Youth and the boy questions everything he was taught to believe.

“They hide their passion and sexuality from their warring families and their closest friends. Misadventure, family pride, and antisemitism abort and bury the most joyous of beginnings, the most hopeful of love stories as Romeo and Juliet, driven apart, find their world becoming a constricting mausoleum of fate and death.”

‘Exploiting Jewish trauma’

However, Lewendel defended the play’s setting in the Nazi era, saying: “It’s the increasing fascism in the world today that has kind of become a trend in my work.

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“I gained some comfort that the idea could be accepted when I saw things like ‘Jojo Rabbit‘, and it shows this young boy – younger than Romeo – who’s been indoctrinated but doesn’t really understand what he’s been indoctrinated against.”

Responding to his apology, the Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “We still struggle to think how this could be anything but tasteless.

“It is staggering that anyone would find this play about morally equivalent feuding families to be an appropriate way to explore Nuremberg-era persecution of Jews by Nazi Germany.”

Other social media users agreed, with one writing, “Would having Jewish actors actually help? It’s the concept that’s gross, not the representation!”

Another added: “This isn’t clever or subversive; it’s exploiting Jewish trauma in the most salacious way possible. Do better.”

While a third wrote: “I really, really doubt most Jewish actors would want to do this. I mean, imagine having to pretend that one of the largest atrocities ever committed against your people was in any way ‘romantic’?? Yikes!!!”