“Shakespeare’s R & J,” at Kansas City’s Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre finds new, deeper, and hidden meaning in the classic Shakespeare tragedy of star-crossed lovers by turning the tragedy into an impassioned love story for all ages–even 2014 by examining the core elements and truths of the story, with a limited run from March 3-11.
The twist and discovery of Shakespeare’s secreted meaning comes from playwright Joe Calarco, through the creative vision of Trevor Belt, director for the short run of “Shakespeare’s R & J.” The play focuses on four young men captive in a strict boarding school but captivated by the love story Shakespeare created. Their discovery and purloining of Romeo and Juliet causes them to begin reading the forbidden text, while the dramatic love story entraps them as they read the play and fall further and further into Shakespeare’s spell.
A religious boarding school (probably Catholic) puts undue pressure on four young men to study diligently and memorize religious doctrines. They recite the Ten Commandments with ease and follow the strict religious guidelines of the establishment, but yearn for escape from their black and white environment. A nighttime reading of Romeo and Juliet frees their minds as their spirits dig deeper into the text of Shakespeare’s book.
Calarco’s play brings to mind the movie, Dead Poet’s Society for its locked minds and the curiosity of young minds that question authority and boundaries. The use of only four men to recreate the entire story of Romeo and Juliet means the original text needs serious editing to get into a two-hour format. The edit necessitates the removal of characters, subplots, and events from the original.
Suffice it to say, the edits work and nothing major is lost. What remains in tack puts more focus on the love found withing the original and ignores superfluous details. The streamlined version told here uncovers that love, true love, can exist between two persons . . . yes, even same sex couples. That catapults “Shakespeare’s R & J” into 2014 with the societal shift to accept LGBT lifestyles and equality.
Four young actors, cast by Trevor Belt, director, re-enact the classic tragedy. Tyler Eisenreich, Seth Jones, Donovan Kidd, and Zach Parker portray all of the characters in the play.
Each actor brings a new spin on Shakespeare’s work. One may think the show that uses only men may be a spoof are in for a surprise. They perform in a theater-in-the round style, similar to Shakespeare’s original Globe Theater in London. The limited costumes and props put the focus on the story, not the sets and clothes. Just like seeing a Shakespearean performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the production reduces everything to a minimum to get the maximum out of the story. As in Shakespeare’s time, men portray women.
Eisenreich, Jones, Kidd, and Parker deliver Shakespeare’s verse with relative ease. Even those who may be scared of Shakespeare’s classic verse can understand the words and their meaning. No one should feel intimidated by 14th Century English verse to enjoy “Shakespeare’s R & J.”
Eisenreich is a believable Juliet and pairs well with Jones’ Romeo. Kidd creates a very likeable Mercutio and a gentler Lady Capulet. Parker makes a funny Nurse and violent Tybalt. Their acting ability shines as they switch from character to character and lead the audience deeper and deeper into the love story.
“Shakespeare’s R & J” weaves the story with newfound, underlying truths and should be seen by all. The show deserves capacity seating. Different from standard shows in Kansas City that run weekends only, “Shakespeare’s R & J” runs on nights opposite the current weekend production of “Night of the Iguana.” So, “Shakespeare’s R & J” runs for only four more perfromances, at this time.
The creative team for “Shakespeare’s R & J” is: Belt, director; Adam Henry, asst. Director, Madeline McCrae, stage manager, and Tim Gormly, sound.
For tickets, call the box office: 816,569.3226 or check their website: metkc.org.