Shakespeare’s R & J a powerful, compelling experience

With its presentation of Shakespeare’s R & J, SHSU’s Department of Theatre and Dance once again demonstrates that the magic of a show often comes with proper casting.

This play is a deconstructed version of Romeo and Juliet, written by Joe Calarco, originally to be played by four males.

They take on the roles from the original play and begin to act it out, but as the climactic moment of Mercutio’s death slowly fades into the past, so, too, does their depiction of the original characters.

Director Penny Hasekoester has chosen to present this play with the intended male cast on select nights, along also with an all female cast on alternate ones.

Side by side, these shows are the penultimate example of the saying, “The same, but different.”

I personally enjoyed the males’ version of the first act more, but the females’ version of the second.

Demonstrating why, perhaps, it was originally written for a male cast, the men brought a schoolboy-energy to the scenes involving the school, the Nurse, the ball and the fight.

This energy was wrought with the sexual tension that arises as the students that play Romeo and Juliet (Garret Storms and Mitchell Greco, respectively) see the opportunity to use this play as more than just a game.

Storms has an ability to effortlessly make the Shakespearean language seem like modern English, playing a wonderfully understated, but strong Romeo.

Greco was perfectly cast in his role, presenting a tentative and delicate portrayal of a student that would play both Juliet and Benvolio.

Michael Keeney played Student 4, acting as Tybalt and the Nurse for most of the time, and brought a level of intensity to the role that alerted the audience early on that there would be far more interlaced and underlying relationships between the boys than expected.

Josh Fehrmann exudes the bumbling comedy of Mercutio in the beginning, reminding me of actor Patrick Renna many times.

He maintains the boyish, fun-loving qualities of his character when having to play Lady Capulet, but adequately lessened them while depicting Friar Laurence.

There was one moment that was captured impeccably by both casts. In the wedding scene, as Romeo begins his vows, the actors playing Students 3 and 4 rip the book containing the lines he is to say out of his hands, tearing up the pages.

Both Storms and Ashtyn Sonner, who played the same role in the female version, took my breath away, as they began to recite the beginning of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 instead of their intended vows.

They both made it clear that they were going to say what they needed to say to their partner, whether reading the words from a text, or taking them straight from their memories.

Although the script is intended to show how men interact with each other, the female cast seamlessly took the same words to show how women interact with one another.

Sonner was clearly born to play Shakespearean roles, and played this more masculine role with a powerful femininity.

Ashley Lowe plays opposite her as the student playing Juliet, capturing the impractical innocence of the role wonderfully, but particularly shining in her scene when desperately seeking help from Friar Laurence.

Tasheena Miyagi was multifaceted, effortlessly bringing a chameleon-like versatility to the stage, as she shows the humor of Mercutio’s role, the anger of her daughter’s defiance as Lady Capulet, and the seemingly-helpful counseling of Friar Laurence, all while maintaining her own characters intentions.

Maegan De La Rosa combined the resentment of Tybalt’s character with the nurturing qualities of the Nurse, creating an entirely complex and complete character.

The show runs from March 31 through Saturday, April 4. The female cast has a night performance on April 2 at 8 p.m. and a matinee performance on April 4 at 2 p.m. The males will perform April 3 and 4, both at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $8 for general admission, and there is adult content in the shows. Extra credit opportunities would be obvious for this show in particular, but be forewarned: If you see one performance, you will want to see the other.

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