Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Shakespeare's R&J"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Beverly Creasey

Shaking the Spear in Style

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

If it seems like there are a million small theaters in Boston, it’s true---well, over a hundred, at least. MILL 6 is one of those little companies with big talent. Their SHAKESPEARE’S R&J is a lovely adaptation of ROMEO AND JULIET, tinkered with by Joe Calarco (and the tinkering is minimal compared to some versions) performed by four young men. Even with the dream concept from SHREW, the fairies from MIDSUMMER NIGHT and a sonnet or two, it runs under two hours---and it runs, well, “like the wind.”

Calarco’s conceit, a la “The Dead Poets’ Society” is that four enterprising boys smuggle a copy of ROMEO & JULIET into their repressive prep school and discover, through Shakespeare, a riveting tale of violence and forbidden love. The schoolboy concept works well, reminding us from time to time (when the class bell interrupts a juicy scene) that these students are ripe for a challenge, a window into another world. It’s a tribute to Shakespeare, the original “spear shaker” in repressive times.

Barlow Adamson’s smart (even breathtaking, as when two hands intertwine, steeple style, to form a crown) direction, using but one prop (a swath of red fabric), lets us imagine the vial of poison , a sword or a lit torch. The four actors give a literate reading of the text so that we understand every word….and feel every emotion we’re supposed to, even in this shortened version. As Juliet says, in a minute we see “many days.”

The four actors perform a delicate balance: we see them as Romeo, Juliet, the nurse etc but we see them as schoolboys becoming the characters. Spencer S Christie gives a luminous performance as a cheeky student and as the sweet heroine of the play. Adam Soule does melancholy in both guises, but shaded differently as the pining Romeo. Jeremy Johnson is hilarious, and touching, as Juliet’s nurse and Tyler Hollinger, as the upstart Mercutio and an arthritic priest, oozes testosterone. What fun. What grand language. Shakespeare, Stratford or Oxford man, would be proud.

"Shakespeare’s R&J" (12-27 March)
Devanaugh Theatre/Piano Factory Building, 791 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 240-6317

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide