Shakespeare’s R&J, the somewhat hip title ascribed to Joe Calarco’s creative adaptation and intertwining of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set in a Catholic all-male boarding school, is highly visceral, physical, and jolting – and a very challenging concept for a play. Calarco directs a cast of four very energetic and talented actors at full throttle and with tremendous authority and assurance. From the militaristic opening and right through the various attempts of these four students to wrestle with the demons of their repression as they read and interpret passages from Romeo and Juliet, every movement of each actor and every moment of the play is synchronized and choreographed with meticulous precision. This tightly controlled oversight of this play is the play’s main strength as it helps the audience to understand this unique concept.
The four actors employed here certainly highlight this adaptation’s assets with their beautifully nuanced recitation and their physical presence. All four actors have to possess vigorous endurance, physical stamina, and strong vocal projection with all the physical interaction in this piece because at times the production is like a marathon race as the actors recite their lines and run around the stage.
Rex Daugherty, Jefferson Farber, Alex Mills, and Joel David Santner are all superb and their resumes in the program attest to their vast backgrounds and training. Santner’s soliloquy at the opening of Act Two stands out as particularly effective and moving.
Calarco’s control of his technical team is indisputably top-notch as all technical components are stellar. The spare yet elegant scenic design of wood tones and panels by Scenic Designer James Kronzer are a very good choice to contrast with all the physical movement on stage. Stimulating and evocative effects such as a sudden rainstorm, a red sash, fog and vapor wafting from the heavens and an absolutely breathtaking lit candle border lowered from the ceiling show the endless ingenuity of Kronzer. The Lighting Design by Chris Lee is well-chosen throughout. Musical elements and interludes are very effectively interwoven at apt points in the action courtesy of Sound Designer Matt Rowe and Composer Gabriel Mangiante.
If you want to experience a unique and imaginative rendering of Romeo and Juliet and enjoy theatrical experimentation, do not miss Joe Calarco’s exciting Shakespeare’s R&J.
Running Time: Two hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
Shakespeare’s R&J plays through March 3, 2013 in the MAX Theatre at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, Virginia. For tickets, call the box office (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online.