“Shakespeare’s R & J” Freshens the Bard’s Masterwork at TheaterWorks Hartford

 By Tony Schillaci and Don Church

“Romeo and Juliet” is still one of the most popular and frequently produced of Shakespeare’s brilliant and lyrical plays.  Its most recent adaptation “Shakespeare’s R& J” is playing through December 20 at TheaterWorks in downtown Hartford through December 20th.

This powerful and inventive retelling of the classic love story has had critically acclaimed and successful runs both off-Broadway and on London's West End.  It’s been rightfully called “a vibrant, hot-blooded new adaptation of”Romeo and Juliet” that pulsates with an adolescent abandon and electricity” by The New York Times and an “exploration of passion and repression in both Shakespeare’s time and our own” by Variety

Award-winning young playwright Joe Calarco's vision of love and discovery still resonates with audiences around the world.  This TheaterWorks production is notable for several reasons one of which is the unmistakable strong and creative direction by the multi-award-winning Rob Ruggiero.

This time out Ruggiero has four young, well-trained actors: Adam Barrie, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon, has previously played Romeo; Ashley Robinson from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts has played Feste in “Twelfth Night,” Paul Terzenbach from The Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University has performed in three Shakespeare plays including Autolycus in “The Winter’s Tale” at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London; and TJ Linnard who earned his B.F.A from SUNY Purchase Acting Conservatory and has played Florizel in “The Winter’s Tale.” 

All four of these talented actors are new members of Actors Equity Association (AEA) and are worthy of membership in this respected organization for actors and stage manager as witnesses by their mesmerizing performances at such an early stage in their careers.

Before the play began, TheaterWorks’ Artistic and Managing Director Steve Campo reminded the audience that in Shakespeare’s time, all parts were played by males.  Calarco has revived the tradition here and added an invocative contemporary setting that heightens a sexual and repressive star-crossed love story for today’s audiences. The effect is electrifying.  It’s based on the classic story of history's most famous doomed lovers into a modern tale of teenage awakening and coping with adolescence.  

The play explores youthful desires, vulnerability and burgeoning sexuality as four students at a strictly conservative religious preparatory school get their hands on the banned “Romeo and Juliet.” As the schoolboys secretly find themselves immersed in the tragic story of forbidden love, they assume the roles of all the play's characters and the tale begins to blur with their own lives. 

There is usually trepidation about listening to American actors struggle with Shakespeare’s powerful and beautiful verse, but here director Ruggiero saves the day, as usual, with his outstanding skill and talent to get every detail in a play letter-perfect.  

He succeeds: the performers are successful at making the Bard’s poetry as understandable as everyday speech.  And, for good measure, Ruggiero never fails to draw out great performances from his quartet of gifted and charismatic actors.  They play multiple parts in the many quick seamless transitions revealing remarkable range at such a young age.  The play and the actors are not to be missed. 

Free seats for select performances of “Shakespeare’s R&J” are available to young people ages 16 – 18 thanks to Lincoln Financial Foundation.

Discounted parking is available to TheaterWorks’ patrons for $5 at CityPlace Garage (diagonally up Pearl Street from TheaterWorks) or the outdoor A & A Lot at the corner of Asylum and Ann Street, across from Mayor Mike's Bistro. 

For complete information and reservations, call TheaterWorks at (860) 527-7838, or visit TheaterWorks at www.theaterworkshartford.org.

© Copyright 2009.  Critics On The Aisle. All rights reserved. (This review will be published by Metroline NewsMagazine on Friday, December 4th, and in The Resident Newspaper on Wednesday, Dec.9th.)


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