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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review
Rob Ruggiero expertly directs the four actors (Adam Barrie, Ashley Robinson, Paul Terzenbach and TJ Linnard) using minimal props (what dramatic use he makes of a single piece of red material, you won’t believe) and tight precision against a gray-stone backdrop (Brian Prather, design) that doubles as the walls of their cold, unfeeling boarding school as well as the Capulet household or the tomb where the lovers meet their fate.
Ruggiero casts four young, relatively inexperienced actors as the students, and their youth lends credibility to school chums launching into an impromptu performance of the bard’s classic. What’s not as plausible, however, is that the two playing Romeo and Juliet would so willingly launch into the physical expressions of love or that the other two would so easily go along with the real-life plot twist taking place in front of them. In fact, the red sheet mimicking a dress for Juliet is abandoned for the scenes where the lovers embrace bringing home that this isn’t just a story about four schoolmates acting out the story, but about their sexual awareness and discovery.
The Friar Laurence character at first shows some difficulty accepting the realism of the affection in the unfolding scenes, but eventually comes around and willingly performs the marriage ceremony (and the wedding night "is it the lark or the nightingale scene" contains more passion between the two men than I have seen in some traditional versions)
Act two loses much of the feel of the schoolboys’ re-enactment and ends up being just four guys playing the roles for the rest of the story. This is the play’s downfall. The interesting twist in this adaptation is watching the boys find escape from the rote of their boring school routine through the play. Without that, it becomes a statement and it is a lesser version of the classic.
Despite artistic director Steve Campo’s entreaty in a pre-curtain speech to remember that Shakespeare’s plays originally were performed by all-male casts, I’d rather see a traditional production with a female Juliet (Ruggiero at the helm would be a welcome treat). All four actors give fine performances, however, and the portrayals of Lady Capulet and the nurse are quite amusing.
Editor's Note: While many, like Lauren would prefer their R&J straight, Calarco's adaptation, which was first staged when he was still at NYU over ten years ago, has had very sturdy legs. This 4-man version has been produced all over the world.