By CAITLIN COGGINS
“I have three words for you: Hotter than ‘Brokeback.’”
That’s what sophomore Anastasia Sullivan had to say about “R & J,” the latest play performed by University of Mary Washington’s Theatre and Dance Department.
This adaptation by playwright/director Joe Calarco of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, “Romeo and Juliet,” takes place in an all-boys Catholic school, and is a bit sexually charged.
Four students, accustomed to being restricted and controlled in their school environment, reenact the powerful play in their free time. Using a minimal set, the cast brings the audience into the streets of Verona, where the story begins to unfold.
The tragic story is merely a device which enables the boys to explore their own rebellious and sexual natures.
As usual, we see the two families torn apart by an “ancient grudge,” except in this version, the entire play is performed only by the four students, who switch flawlessly from scene to scene into their different characters.
The play stars senior Peter Larson as Student 1 and Romeo; junior Reginald Eric Richards-Peelle as Student 2, Juliet and Benvolio; freshman Paul Morris as Student 3, Mercutio and Friar Lawrence; and junior Kyle Schuster as Student 4, Tybalt and the Nurse.
The scenes in which the two students playing Romeo (Larson) and Juliet (Richards-Peelle) have to act intimate toward one another are first portrayed as comical, reminding the audience that these are just school boys acting out a play.
This humor quickly turns to awkwardness for the other boys who aren’t participating (Morris and Schuster), as Romeo and Juliet dive deeper into their roles. It becomes clear the other boys aren’t comfortable with it.
What was funny seconds ago quickly becomes a moment of passion as the two boys engage in an unexpected kiss.
The forbidden love famously associated with “Romeo and Juliet” also adheres to the forbidden love that would exist between two students at an all-boys Catholic school.
Although the reasons for the taboo love are completely different, actors Larson and Peelle convey this ideal extremely well. The play is the instrument through which they can act out their desires, something forbidden in the environment they inhabit.
The most captivating part of the play is the acting. The four actors are on stage the entire time. They have an incredible amount of lines and never falter once. Each actor performs several roles and switches seamlessly into each one.
The cast also makes Shakespearean English much more understandable and accessible to a modern audience through their acting. There isn’t one particular standout performance, mainly because all four actors play their roles with such gusto and passion.
Another honorable mention is the simplicity of the set. Designed by theatre professor David Hunt, the set consists only of four chairs, a table and a red shroud, which are used for the entire play.
The red shroud, representing the different elements of aggression and passion within the story, plays a very important role. It ties Romeo and Juliet together in certain scenes, and represents their romance, but also the swords and the violence existing between the two families.
Another very important element to the play is the lighting, designed by junior David Ryan Spry.
The use of reds and a particular starry backdrop really help to convey the various moods of the performance.
“Hotter than ‘Brokeback’” is a humorous and valid way to describe this play. The revised story, expert acting and pleasing aesthetics make the play a liberating and challenging version of “Romeo and Juliet.”