Courtesy of Signature Theatre
“Shakespeare’s R&J” at Signature Theatre is not the typical “Romeo and Juliet” you read in your 9th grade English class.
This play, written in 1997, adapted and directed by Joe Calarco, has been stripped down to a cast of four male students at a present day boarding school, and the only thing they have in their world are two wooden chairs, a chest, a piece of red fabric and a few books and flashlights.
Leading the tight ensemble of “Shakespeare’s R&J” is Alex Mills, who most recently performed in Synetic Theater’s “Jekyll and Hyde.” He serves as the “Romeo” of the piece, with Jefferson Farber playing his “Juliet.” Together, these young men play out the tragic story of the famous star-crossed lovers trying to preserve their forbidden love affair in an all-male Catholic boarding school.
The two other cast members, Rex Daugherty and Joel David Santner, more than rounded out the show as the passing judgments of the two young boys’ hidden love affair as well as other “Romeo and Juliet” characters like the Nurse, the Apothecary, Mercutio and Tybalt.
All four of them gave incredible performances. The stakes were incredibly high from the moment the lights went up right up until the curtain call. The show was very physical, allowing Mills to show off his Synetic training and bringing the show to a more raw level.
Pacing was so energetic that the world of “Romeo and Juliet” and the world of the school blended right together. Though confusing at first, the parallel between the two worlds was so poetic that it was a better experience to just let it all unfold despite the familiar tragic ending of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Even though the set and costumes were so simple, the lighting took the audience to the different locations of the story. Lighting designer Chris Lee took the audience to many different locations and created dynamic visuals that brought the audience right into the moment. The actors also used flashlights, pointing them at one another during the production.
It is quite common for Shakespeare to be reinvented for a production, but there is never a guarantee that it will be done well. Signature Theatre may have recently just gained 12 Helen Hayes nominations for its last season, but this show will certainly earn them quite a few next year. The play will run until March 3.