Okay Shakespeare's "R&J" -- An Accessible Approach

By Bob and Karen Isaacs

For those of us who find Shakespeare a little tough sledding -- even such a familiar work as Romeo and Juliet -- the production, Shakespeare's R&J, at Hartford TheatreWorks may ease the path.  Adapted by Joe Calarco and directed by the talented Rob Ruggiero, the play is presented in a relatively clear and direct manner even though great parts of it are in Shakespeare's Elizabethan language.

Presented as a production by four students -- appropriately male -- at a modern Catholic boarding school, Shakespeare's R&J brings the play to life.  The students are identified in the playbill as student one, two three, and four -- but in the playbill they are Adam Barrie, Ashley Robinson, Paul                                                        Terzenbach and TJ Linnard, respectively -- assume all the roles and, as in Shakespeare's time, males play females since women were not allowed on the stage.

The students find themselves more and more involved in the tragic story of forbidden love and it in a certain sense that pale begins to blur the their own lives.  However as the action progresses the complications due to the feuding of the families grows clear and the dangers understood.

Because in this production the physical interaction between Romeo and Juliet is more than just reciting lines, the forbidden love of the play is amplified by the actions of the performers.  While this makes perfect sense in one way -- the traditional Elizabethan staging – it obviously exacerbates any homophobic attitudes that may still prevail as it reinforces the play’s concept of forbidden love.

Rob Ruggiero has staged it on a generally bare stage -- there are four chairs and a chest all of which are moved about during the production.  Additionally there is a long red scarf that is used for a variety of purposes among which is a knife, a bed, a dress and even two sides in a duel.

You will not be disappointed in this production as it takes on a life of its own, and just as it seems the actors have suspended their disbelief so will you. You will certainly come away with a clear understanding of the play and the machinations that result in its tragedy.  While you may think that what transpires and what the play seems to be saying is the totality of what Shakespeare intended, for those who are aware of that magic of Romeo and Juliet it only scratches the surface of the work.  In fact much of the beauty of the play is in the language and that seems to get lost somewhat.  The various protestations pro and con about love and the passion of the words are not always effective.

But these young men performing the work handle the basic details well and shift comfortably from role to role and gender to gender. Under the direction of Rob Ruggiero, Shakespeare’s R&J is definitely a worthwhile exposure to theatrical magic.

Shakespeare’s R&J is at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St., through Dec. 20. For tickets and information call 860-527-7838 or online at theaterworkshartford.org.

This review appeared in Shore Publications.

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