Bored by the classics? Can’t make head or tail of Shakespeare? An independent theater company operating in Brooklyn known as Genesis Repertory might just change your mind. Their mission statement is to make art accessible to the masses, and they do that by taking those dusty old classics and bringing them right into the 21st century, all the while making sure that the original intent, themes, and text are respected.
Genesis Repertory began in 1999 with its first production, a modernized version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which they set in America during the Kennedy administration. The Merchant of Venice, famous for the somewhat anit-Semitic caricature of Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, was restaged in Nazi Germany on the eve of Kristallnacht (appropriate as Hitler had the play broadcast over German airwaves as part of his propaganda campaign against the Jews shortly after the real Kristallnacht). Macbeth was transported to Argentina of the 1940s, while A Midsummer Night’s Dream was set in Central Park at the turn of the millennium. Numerous other productions, most of which were also based on the works of Shakespeare, were likewise reimagined.
Taking the classics and applying a modern coat of paint to them is a longtime Hollywood and theater tradition. The 1896 opera by Puccini, La bohème, was adapted as the smash 1996 Broadway musical, Rent. Movies such as My Fair Lady (based on the story of Pygmalion), Forbidden Planet (derived from Shakespeare’s The Tempest – also done as a Genesis production), and even the teen comedy Ten Things I Hate About You (inspired by The Taming of the Shrew) are further evidence of this.
Of course, the most famous adaptation has to be West Side Story, which took the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet, set it in 1950s New York City, and told the star-crossed relationship between Tony and Maria, each associated with a rival gang fighting for dominance on the streets of Manhattan.
What makes Genesis Repertory’s approach unique, however, is that rather than doing their modernization as a one-off, they have made this the focal point of their creative endeavors and the axis upon which their theatrical slate of projects revolves.
That ever-malleable story of Romeo and Juliet is now being taken on by Genesis Repertory as the climax to its upcoming theatrical season. Set to debut in Spring 2010, their version tells the tried-and-true story of the two ill-fated young lovers. The twist? He’s Jewish, she’s Palestinian, and their story is set in modern day Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. This thoroughly modern – and thoroughly relevant – take is sure to make theatergoers confront their own biases and perhaps reassess where they stand regarding the larger geopolitical issues on which this play comments metaphorically. Like all good theater, this telling of Romeo and Juliet is sure to get tongues wagging – and debating – its weighty subtext.
The talent behind this production is spearheaded by two of Genesis Repertory’s founders, Jay Michaels and Mary Elizabeth MiCari. Mr. Michaels has had a long career in entertainment, first as an actor in theater, film, and television, then adding behind-the-scenes responsibilities as a theatrical producer and director. Today, he is also the president of the board of Genesis Repertory as well as its producer and director. Further, he acts as Marketing Executive for the Bronx Opera. Ms. MiCari -- actress, singer, director, and teacher -- is the Artistic Director of Genesis Repertory. She also works backstage in Broadway and film and designs for Genesis occasionally. Several years ago, Ms. MiCari opened a new division within Genesis called GAIA, whose reason for being is to give female performing artists full control over their projects and artistic visions. Ms. MiCari has also drawn on her talents as an opera singer to found the operatic division of Genesis Repertory.
Recently, we sat down with Michaels and MiCari for what was the first of a planned series of interviews with Genesis Repertory. In this first segment, we speak briefly about the founding of Genesis, preview their upcoming theatrical season, and discuss their production of Romeo and Juliet.
Genesis Repertory is celebrating its 10th year in operation and has recently relocated its productions to the main stage of Brooklyn’s Block Institute, located at 376 Bay 44th Street.
Its next production takes place there on Saturday, November 21 at 7:00 pm and will be a celebratory retrospective of highlights from its first 10 years of theater. Additionally, there will be some preview segments showcasing selections from its upcoming theatrical season.
For more information, please watch our interview by clicking on the link below and visit the website of Genesis Repertory at www.genesis-repertory.org where you can also order tickets for the November 21 event.
Click on the players below to watch the video interviews with Jay Michaels & Mary Elizabeth MiCari as well as the vignettes with some of the Genesis Repertory actors.
Jay Michaels & Mary Elizabeth MiCari:
Genesis Repertory: Meet the Actors, part 1:
(Mary & Francis Callahan, John Stillwaggon, Anna Frankl-Duval, and Lisa Tosti)
Genesis Repertory: Meet the Actors, part 2:
(Kristin O'Blessin, Louis Tullo, Michelle Alexandra, and Theresa Chow)