Shakespeare’s R & J

(The cast of Shakespeare’s R & J – the guy in the front is the one I loved.)

This isn’t a book, but sluts get to break the rules. I recently went to see the Raleigh Ensemble Players Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s R & J. The play was adapted in 1999 by Joe Calarco. Calarco is quoted as saying, “This is a play about men. It is about how men interact with other men. Thus it deals with how men view women, sex, sexuality, and violence.” He goes on to say that it is a play about students so the actors are students first and foremost, not Shakespearean characters. This is very important to remember when viewing the play.

Shakespeare’s R&J is about four male students in strict boarding school finding release, comedy, love, realization, and self through Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The first act of the play has four very boyish students laughing their way through the text. They’re finding in humor in making sex jokes and portraying women with large breasts; they’re typical teenagers. But something happens between two of the students. The obvious attraction between the two students is ridiculed by the other two boys and they mock it and even try to stop it. At one point, things become violent. The brief violence jars them and they apologize through sonnets and the urging of all to continue. After intermission, the boys are engrossed in playing the parts – it has become real for them.

The stage is bare – four black boxes that start as desks become all the play of them. There’s a tattered copy of Romeo and Juliet that gets read from and tossed around the stage. And there’s a red cloth that was used to hide the text. It makes sense that this red cloth has to serve the purpose of all the props needed to put on the Shakespeare play; the students wouldn’t have swords, costumes, vials, etc. at their disposal. It was easy to accept the cloth in this role – the cloth is also important because it connects, conceals, and violently separates the boys.

At the end of the play, the boys are startled into their routines and hurriedly scramble around to find their socks, shoes, ties, and books. One boy, the one who played mostly Romeo, urges them to continue. They all leave him; the boy who played Juliet looks back, noticeably conflicted, before brushing it off as a game and leaving him. It’s heartbreaking, really.

The cast was made up of Shawn S. Stoner, Jack Benton, L.A. Rogers, and Ryan Brock – these four men did an excellent job. The clear stand-out for me was the student who played the nurse (among others.) The problem with four men playing several characters (and sometimes playing the same character) is that the playbill doesn’t let you know who is who as they are just listed as students 1-4.

I thought it was well done though I do have some issues with the actual script – other parts of Shakespeare get tossed into the reading (other plays & sonnets) and I wish there was a bit more to explain this heavy reliance on all of Shakespeare’s work when it seems that the tragedy is a dirty secret. I also didn’t much care for the boy who played Juliet. His voice annoyed me.

With all that in mind, if a local ensemble group is putting it on near you, go check it out – it’s worth the two hours of your life.

As for the REP – check them out, you Raleighites, at — it doesn’t hurt that their new home is over Foundation (a lovely little bar with amazing drinks – try cucumber on the vine –

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