I don’t know why I chose to spend my evening watching West Side Story (instead of Zoli in Elizabeth as was my initial plan lol) but I did. I knew/was expecting it to be a pretty close parallel to Romeo and Juliet. (Although in some ways it really fails in that – mainly the main conceit and shift in themes to address racial tensions changes the tone of some things. Like, in R&J both families were equally being dumbasses about their feud but in WSS the Jets inevitably gain racist overtones which makes them less sympathetic and make the Sharks look more like victims who are just defending themselves from the racist white kids. Especially since we never really see the gangs do anything…gang-y outside of fighting each other.) But, anyway, what I actually wanted to say was that there was one part that was parallel to R&J but done a little differently and it made a lot of emotional difference to me (in favor of WSS).
In R&J I’m always kinda annoyed at Juliet for basically immediately forgiving Romeo for killing Tybalt and taking his side before she even has a chance to see him. Like, it always felt…fake to me. I mean, I’m not big on the romance in that play anyway, but even if we take it super seriously and all, it’s still really hard to disregard the fact that THEY JUST MET. So, when Juliet’s initial reaction to the news is to go “omg! Turns out this person I just met is an asshole!” it feels kinda rewarding in the sense that yea hello. You just met him, you know almost nothing about him, unpleasant surprises may very well abound – it’s almost a criticism of the whole idea that you’re just going to know that someone is right for you the second you meet. Of course, we know Romeo’s a good guy, so we want her to forgive him. But Juliet doesn’t know. She’s just been shown exactly how much she might not know. And yet she immediately assumes, with no evidence, that it was Tybalt’s fault and that Romeo couldn’t be to blame and he was prob just defending himself. (Her evidence being that he’s too good looking which OMG STOP.)
And, yea, Maria also forgives Tony in like five seconds. But at least it’s played differently. She sees him and her first reaction is rage, but he’s there and she doesn’t just assume things. What she does is gives him a minute to explain, in which he rambles off how he tried to stop the fight, how he never meant for it to happen, about Riff. And only then does she forgive him, because she’s heard his side of the story and since she loves him she believes him. It’s a subtle difference but it’s a pretty big one to me. Juliet takes Romeo’s side because she can’t fathom that someone she’s in love with can be to blame. Maria forgives Tony because she’s heard and can see his side of the situation (her feelings making it easier for her to empathize with him).