If tough women and gentle men don’t sound like the dramatis personae of any Shakespeare play you’ve ever seen or read, the time has come to meet the characters who populate R&J, A Gender-Reversed Romeo And Juliet, a production so all-around superb that it is “Hollywood Fringe” in name only.
Mine Is Yours Theatre Company’s inspired concept is revealed in the production’s tweaked title. Have Romeo become Romea and Juliet Julian, turn the enterprising Friar into Sister Lawrence and Juliet’s Nurse into Julian’s (Male) Nurse, and you’ve got a brand-new take on a classic tale.
The result is an R&J populated by girls as hard-edged as biker chicks and a boy as hopelessly romantic as any girl who’s ever swooned over Heathcliff or Mr. Darcy … or Romeo for that matter.
Not only does this approach give actors the chance to portray new characters, in this R&J it’s a love-struck heroine in determined pursuit of the object of her love-at-first-sight and an equally love-struck hero up on that balcony, stars (and Romea) in his eyes.
It’s a whole new world for these iconic characters, with tough chicks fighting things out in the street*, a Catholic nun taking matters into her hands, and a love story so powerful, it invokes tears like never before.
An absolutely splendid featured cast (Alan Blumenfeld, Hayley Brown, Katherine James, Cj Merriman, dramaturg Hannah Pell, and Taylor Jackson Ross) support Mary Ellen Schneider and Dane Oliver, both leads absolutely incandescent—and stardom bound.
Director Abby Craden ensures that each performance rings true—and comprehensible despite antiquated language.
Shen Heckel’s lighting design is as exquisite as you could wish for. Assistant director Sam Szabo’s musical soundtrack and choreography up the romance every step of the way. Mallin Alter’s contemporary costumes are terrific too, though a contrasting color scheme would help distinguish between Montagues and Capulets. Stage manager James Ferrero’s set and media design complete the design package to simple but effective perfection.
A stunning photo montage by Jenn Spain and Nate Grams provides R&J with a deeply emotional climax that left me shattered. If there’s ever been must-see Shakespeare, R&J, A Gender-Reversed Romeo And Juliet is as must-see as it gets.
June 14, 2105
*Kudos to fight choreographers Aaron Hendry and Mike Mahaffey