Saturday, November 27News That Matters

‘Romeo and Juliet’ Meets the Hot Vax Summer

Simon Godwin’s direction is tactile, obsessed with hands and the ways an open-palmed welcome, a single-finger caress, the taut-knuckled hardness of a fist can signify romance, or violence, or both.

The confidential meeting of the lovers in the tussle of bodies at the Capulet shindig, the hesitant first touch of their fingers and, later, the urgent consummation — none of this is surprising. Neither is it risqué.

And yet, to me, it felt alarming — pornographic even — given how we have spent the last year painfully aware of what threats proximity could breed.

Last spring NYC Health released a much-mocked guide to safe sex during the pandemic, encouraging masturbation as the most Covid-friendly alternative to, in Shakespearean terms, sheathing one’s dagger. No more sweaty tangling of limbs in a dark bar, no more post-date kiss on the sidewalk outside a restaurant. Or at least not without risk.

Even as more of us get vaccinated, intimacy will likely feel like a fresh adventure, for good and for bad. Some singles are emerging from their quarantine bubbles anticipating a “hot vax summer” of horny hookups and experimental exploits. Others are circumspect, our social skills atrophied and our inhibitions increased in response to a lethal disease.

For the next several months, as we recover from a kind of intimacy-deprived PTSD, Shakespeare’s sexiest play — a play that links lust to violence, even death — may read as extreme, even subtly subversive.

That’s the magic of the Bard, isn’t it? Racy enough for reprobates and rakes, or priggishly read by a congregation of stately stiff-backs, the work is spacious enough to accommodate any disposition. I might be too shy to subscribe to Romeo and Juliet’s steamy OnlyFans, but, hey, there are plenty out there who aren’t.