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A CurtainUp Review
R & J
Luckily the introduction to this engaging adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is brief: there has been more than enough Catholic bashing to satisfy even the most ardent lapsed papist. Joe Calarco shows four young men in the throes of boarding school who seek escape in putting on the familiar play much like jazz instrumentalists dive into a breakout session. We are seeing a private performance in which the roles are divided among the four initiates in Joe Calarco's twist on Dead Poet's Society. The actors are completely believable as they ape the excesses of adult performers.
R&J is also intended as a casting experiment and finally as a cogent rendering of the familiar tale of the star-crossed lovers of Verona. Some reviewers have seen this production as a valid reconstruction of Shakespearean performing conventions with its all-male cast. In this case, it is difficult to slip into the mindset of an Elizabethan audience to accept young men playing female characters without the counterbalance of mature men as their male counterparts. Yet a high level of commitment and generally creditable differentiation among the multiple characters each actor plays is sufficient to keep this somewhat condensed version as a strong contender.
As Mercutio, Friar Lawrence and Lady Capulet, red-haired, diminutive Sean Dugan is the closest to the traditional image of a boarding school pupil both in looks and seeming innocence. New to the production since its move uptown from Expanded Arts, Danny Gurwin adds zest to the Nurse's humorous moments. Greg Shamie's reduction of the text to singsong verse reminds us that these are schoolboys putting on a grownups' play. His Romeo is disappointing next to Daniel J. Shore's model Shakespearean delivery. Mr. Shore gives a convincing flow to his text and makes an entrancing Juliet that will convince all skeptics of cross-gender casting.
Evidently Mr. Calarco as director did not feel that the production can stand on its own-which it does admirably-without the addition of gratuitous simulated sex. At least this was the only disappointment in this well- conceived staging in the round at the John Houseman Studio Theatre. A red scarf that in turn becomes each of the many props provides needed color contrast to the navy, grey and white of the boy's uniforms. Jeffrey T. Lowney's lighting effects toward the end of the show make clear the lack of interest in his design for the first half.
Running time is about 2 hrs. and 45 min.