This week I saw the best performance of Juliet I have ever seen, either on stage or screen. She was poised, graceful, heart-breaking, stunningly beautiful, emotionally complex ... and 76 years old.

This week I saw the best performance of Juliet I have ever seen, either on stage or screen. She was poised, graceful, heart-breaking, stunningly beautiful, emotionally complex ... and 76 years old.

“Juliet and Her Romeo,” an adaptation by Sean O’Connor and Tom Morris playing at the Bristol  Old Vic theater, is a poignant transplantation of Shakespeare’s tribute to raging youthful hormones to a quieter, gentler and yet perhaps equally desperate stage of life.

All the major characters are residents in an old people’s home, evoked with a lonely, sparse and clinical set. They contend with patronizing staff and adult children who treat them as juveniles, despite the depth and seriousness of the issues with which they deal.

The result is eye-opening, heartrending and deeply moving. I have always found it difficult to imagine 15-year-olds uttering the poetic lines of Shakespearean verse, or expounding long soliloquies on the vagaries of Queen Mab. On the lips of distinguished, white-haired men and women, such lengthy and elaborate digressions seem perfectly in character.

The original play highlights the indulgence and haste of teenage lust but makes it difficult to empathize. I usually find myself muttering, “Oh, get over yourself” to Romeo. I want to shout to the actors “Just slow down, for heaven’s sake! What’s the rush?”

However, the heavy hanging cloud of mortality, combined with the lonely, impersonal nature of a nursing home imbues this remake with an urgency that makes sense. One understands the need for haste when the remaining years are few and the surroundings so monotone. The desperate need for color, passion and erotic love is so keenly obvious.

The overall impact of the play is a damning condemnation of the way Western society marginalizes, underestimates, infantilizes, mocks and patronizes elderly people. This play dared the audience not to see the humanity, radiance, depth and warmth of love in the last quarter of life.

Trying to shut our elders away or pretend they don’t exist was never a healthy way to organize a society. But as industrialized countries like the U.S. and U.K. face an ever-aging population, it is no longer even an option.

To ignore those who have spent more time on this planet is to overlook great depths of wisdom, experience and feeling, to cut us off from a crucial part of the human family.