By Marlene S. Gaylinn

It’s nothing new to have male actors playing women’s roles.  It was certainly the custom in Shakespeare’s time and even today men act as women in some exotic cultures.  However, at Hartford’s Theatreworks, its “Romeo and Juliet” performed by an all male cast, takes on mysterious, multi-layered meanings and leaves the audience with something to ponder about.

On one level, we have four male, adolescent students who attend a Catholic boarding school where many natural behaviors are repressed.  During the daytime, every moment is militaristically programmed and one must follow the rules without trying to understand or question authority.  On another level we have darkness and release -- a time when these students are able to pursue secret moments of escape, think for themselves and to experiment with their natural, awakening instincts.   On yet another level, we have angry chanting, mismatched recitations, physical turmoil and general chaos.  Then, there’s an ironic awakening -- as if from a dream.  Finally, with jet-like propulsion, we are back to the shocking society of precision, rules and regulations.  This unusual play is structured like a symphony.  It holds your attention and its dreamlike qualities leave you disturbed and wondering.

The tool that ties all these concepts together is the discovery of a forbidden copy of “Romeo and Juliet” which is hidden in a trunk.  With the use of a single prop, a blood-red scarf that becomes pair of swords, a knife, flowing blood, a dress, a bed etc., the four boys re-enact the entire play.  Each member takes on several roles that run the gamut of all the human qualities and frailties of society.  The story, within a story does not tell you what to think.  It’s a wonderful, entertaining production simply for what it is and the playwright, Joe Calarco, cleverly leaves it up to the audience to determine if there are any moral judgments to be made.

This writer was entranced by Adam Barrie, TJ Linnard, Ashley Robinson, and Paul Terzenbachan -- an excellent ensemble of intense, young actors under the creative direction of Rob Ruggiero.  The stonewall set by Brian Prather had haunting, red-glowing niches and effectively served as both a Catholic school and a catacomb.  Matthew Richards’ lighting and the strategic sounds by Vincent Oliver, contributed to the mysterious mood of the play.

“R&J” plays at Theaterworks through December 20.  Tickets: 860-727-4027.

This article also appears in this month's "On Connecticut Theatre"


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