Romeo and Juliet
In this magnificent adaptation of Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet" created by Joe Calarco featuring the talented cast of Rex Daugherty, Jefferson Farber, Alex Mills, and Joel David Santner, four students in an all-male Catholic school decide to reenact the titular play. What at first begins as a light-hearted affair for the group quickly evolves as the characters of Romeo and Juliet, played by Mills and Farber respectively, venture into the realm of forbidden love.
The cast’s performance during this production was impressive to say the least. The play is physically demanding and features elaborate fight scenes, precise movements, and feats of impressive dexterity that must be performed without pause and with perfect delivery of dialogue.
The interaction between Mills and Farber as they assume their roles as Romeo and Juliet is thrilling and entrancing. There is no hesitation in touches, kisses, or caresses during their performance, which is critical in a play in which the actors play both star-crossed lovers and students who may be exploring their own sexuality.
At the same time Daugherty and Santner take up the arduous task of playing almost every other character in the play, yet do so with startling ease. From acts of brutal violence to humorous teenage indulgences in the double meanings of their lines, they play their roles with just enough seriousness and comedic flair to keep the audience entertained and enthralled.
"R&J" is a play whose meaning depends heavily on the interpretation of the viewer. Certain aspects are immediately apparent: the suffocating effects of a strict Catholic school environment, the liberation found in the retelling of a classic tale of love, and inevitable self-discovery of at least one character.
But there are some scenes in which the action on stage can be interpreted in a number of ways. One of these scenes is when Juliet confronts her father to object to her prearranged marriage to Count Paris. In this somewhat graphic scene, two of the students quickly take the humiliation of Juliet a step too far and Juliet is abused, beaten, stripped, and, in one interpretation, sexually assaulted.
The play takes place on a square stage flanked on all sides by members of the audience and suits it well. As actors dart from the stage to the rafters and back again, the audience is implicitly brought into the play themselves. They are made to be a part of the play, perhaps playing the role of the audience by which the original "Romeo and Juliet" was intended to be viewed.
Of particular note is the beautiful use of lighting and effects. One entrancing scene takes place during a thunderstorm where each drop of water is represented by small pools of light upon the stage, before turning into a downpour of moving lights.
Another is the scene in which Romeo and Juliet consummate their love. As the lights dim, a frame of candles gently descends to the stage. In a scene that is both sexually and romantically charged, Romeo and Juliet make love within the flickering light of the candles’ flames.
Beautifully told with the masterful skills of a highly talented cast, this production of "R&J" should not be missed.
"Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet" continues through March 3 at Signature Theatre at 4200 Campbell Ave in Arlington, Virginia. For tickets or information, visit the Signature Theatre website.