THEATER REVIEW: Shakespeare’s R & J @ convergence-continuum by Roy Berko

Through Sat 9/21

In its off-Broadway production, Shakespeare R&J, which is now on stage at convergence-continuum, ran for a year, making it the longest running version of Romeo and Juliet in New York history.

The piece was described as “Hot-blooded … Wrenching … pulsates with an adolescent abandon and electricity of which Romeo himself might approve.” It was recognized as being “an off-kilter tale, contains homosexual content, and is filled with sexual innuendoes.”

The story centers on “four prep school students, tired of going through the usual drill of conjugating Latin and other tedious school routines, who decide to vary their very governed lives. After school, one breaks out a copy of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and they all take turns reading the play aloud. The Bard’s words and the story itself are thrilling to the boys, and they become swept away, enmeshed in the emotion.”

As they become emotionally excited, underlying sexual desires emerge, with a romantic attachment becoming reality, as the youths playing Romeo and Juliet kiss and then have a sexual liaison.

As written, this is a play about discovery. Playwright Joe Calarco states that this is no “sweet romance… the lovers are nuts…. when Romeo says, ‘Come death, and welcome, Juliet wills it so,’ that’s insane… This is not Hamlet — there’s no reflection; it’s all blind action, blind passion.”

Oh, if the con-con production could have reached those high levels of compelling audience involvement and high quality of performance. But, though they try valiantly, expending full emotional physicality, the cast and director are simply not able to hit the lofty goals of the playwright.

To perform or direct a Shakespearean play takes a special level of training, education and experience. It is not by accident that those who appear in the Bard’s plays spend years and years in learning their craft. This is not just performing, it’s having a knowledge of Shakespeare’s writing, his rhythm and rhyming schemes and his language, as well as awareness of Elizabethan England.

The con-con actors (Zach Palumbo, Michael Emery Fox, Joe Soriano, John P. Cox) may be very capable of developing contemporary characters, but unfortunately, they just don’t have the acting chops and training to pull of the R&J beings. There is much feigning of emotions, the fight scenes are automatically performed. There is a lot of slamming things down and stomping. The youth are acting, not being. They are doing “Let’s do a play” rather than “Let’s tell a real story.”

The show is performed in a mock proscenium format. The set is well designed, with a large mosaic window center stage.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Though the cast puts out full effort, con-con’s Shakespeare’s R&J is Bard-light, leaving a lot on the page.

Shakespeare’s R&J runs through Sat 9/21Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to convergence-continuum.

[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]

 

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