December 18, 2002


Shakespeare's R & J

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning














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Shakespearean language, the angst of adolescent love, and exquisite choreography are the hallmarks of Shakespeare's R & J, performed by Chickspeare. The all-woman theatre group pours equal parts of passion and precision into Joe Calarco’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragic love story. It is a perfect match between script and troupe.

Joanna Gerdy directs this tragedy with great precision, and has done so while concurrently directing The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, at Children’s Theatre. Both plays were interrupted by an ice storm. Kudos to her. She elicits a heart-wrenching R & J out of four women wearing matching plaid and navy Catholic school uniforms. It is their acting and hairstyles that differentiate them.

This is a play within a play, a technique that can be confusing, but in this case succeeds. In R & J, four girls in a medieval dormitory made of mottled blood-red brick act out the play after-hours. A kiss between Romeo and Juliet is also between schoolgirls. This adds a layer of guilt and subterfuge that enhances Shakespeare’s original intent. It imbues the play with danger and excitement.

As Student 1, Meghan Lowther plays Romeo. Student 2 is Dana Childs, who tackles Juliet, Benvolio and Friar John. Andrea King is Student 3, and plays Mercutio, Lady Capulet, and Friar Lawrence. She is also responsible for the effective fight choreography. Johanna Jowett plays Tybalt, Nurse and Balthazar as Student 4. Jowett brings down the house with her hilarious impersonation of the nurse, who sports an accent that is part Puerto Rican, and part Rosanne Rosannadana.

I was most struck by the actors’ synchronicity. Roles not assigned to individuals are played by three or more in chorus. Movements are exact. Lines spoken in unison begin and end in unison. The actors use every inch of the stage, often in arrow quick motion, and never stumble.

A long piece of cherry red cloth is the only prop beside a paperback copy of Romeo and Juliet. The cloth is ingeniously manipulated to be a tug of war rope, a vial of poison, a headpiece for the nurse, and a shroud for the dead.

The reality of the dormitory is marked by the girls conjugating Latin verbs, and reciting quotes regarding the differences between men and women, with chorale music in the background. A jangling school bell releases them to their play, and brings them back to school. At the end of the play, the schoolgirls are exhausted, and shy. They, and the audience, are left mysteriously moved by the words of the Bard.

Lynn Trenning, December 18, 2002

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