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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review
Shakespeare’s R&J

  
Love goes toward love, as schoolboys from their books, But love from love, toward school with heavy looks. — Romeo
The prose of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet serves both as an escape for four repressed schoolboys re-enacting the tragedy and as an unexpected catalyst for passion between the two playing the star-crossed lovers in Joe Calarco’s adaptation of the classic being staged at Theaterworks, Hartford.

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.

                                      
Shakespeare’s R&J
Adapted By Joe Calarco
Directed by Rob Ruggiero

Cast: Adam Barrie (Student 1), Ashley Robinson (Student 2), Paul Terzenbach (Student 3), TJ Linnard (student 4)
Scenic Design: Brian Prather
Lighting Design: Matthew Richards
Sound Design: Vincent Oliver
Running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with a 20 minute intermission
TheaterWorks, at City Arts on Pearl, 233 Pearl St., Hartford, CT
Performances: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30 (Saturday matinees begin Nov. 28)
Tickets $38 except Friday and Saturday nights which are $48. Center reserved seats are $12 extra. Tickets are available by calling (860) 527-7838 or by visiting http://www.theaterworkshartford.org.
Nov. 12-Dec. 20,2009
Review by Lauren Yarger based on performance of Nov. 20, 2009  
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