Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Calarco uses Shakespeare's play as a window into the inner lives of four students at a strict Catholic boys' school. The audience sees them marching in military formation, conjugating Latin verbs, and taking confession. But the boys have dreams, and one of them (Alex Mills) has a contraband copy of Romeo and Juliet, so they gather in an empty room late at night to share the forbidden passions depicted in Shakespeare's text.
The boys start out by roughhousing and snickering at the play's bawdy puns, but they soon fall under the spell of Shakespeare's dangerously seductive writing, slipping into and out of roles (male and female, young and old) and discovering things about themselves that they had never dared to admit before. In this version of Romeo and Juliet, the telling of the story becomes the story.
Mills is best known for his gravity-defying performances at Synetic Theater, but his portrayal here shows that he's as comfortable with verbal acrobatics as he is with physical ones. Jefferson Farber, who takes on the role of Juliet, performs with dignity and avoids any sense of caricature. Rex Daugherty and Joel David Santner play numerous other roles ranging from a simpering Nurse to an aggressive Mercutio.
The imagination Calarco brings to this material is staggering: in his vision, a length of red cloth can become a rope, a sword, a bedspread, or a bottle of poison. He's assisted here by James Kronzer's deceptively simple scenic design (and judicious use of stage fog); Chris Lee's atmospheric lighting design; and, most intriguingly, Matt Rowe's sound design.