Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Challenging Production of Joe Calarco's
Shakespeare's R & J

New Conservatory Theatre Center

Also see Richard's reviews of Puppet Up! - Uncensored, Breakfast with Mugabe and I Love Lucy Live on Stage

James Arthur M., Mike Sagun, Taj K. Campbell, and Adam Odsess-Rubin
Twelve years ago the New Conservatory Theatre Center presented a production of this Joe Calarco work which was a great success, and now, under the direction of Ben Randle, the company reimagines the powerful drama to take place in modern day Egypt. Four young men secretly reenact Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet since apparently the Egyptian government considers this play both dangerous and provocative.

The playwright wonders what will happen in this all-male school which is apparently Catholic (the is a crucifix on the wall above the door). The young men have laid hands on a forbidden copy of the Shakespeare's play and late at night they go down to the basement of the school to read it aloud. These four ingenious teenagers have raging teenage hormones. Two are closeted gay men who harbor secret romantic feelings for each other by a mere touch of their hands. Ninety-five percent of the play is the Bard's own words.

The young men march onstage in strict formation in school uniforms, blue blazer with a crest on the pocket and gray pants. They yell to the audience Latin words and simply state 1 (Adam Odsess-Rubin), 2 (Taj K. Campbell), 3 (Mike Sagun) and 4 (James Arthur M.) instead of their names. They reminded me of mannequins or people who have been brainwashed. The actors are no longer young men but boyish enough to pass for inventive high schoolers. When emotions take hold, the flippancy drops away and they become Romeo, Juliet, and other characters in the play.

The four fine young professional actors guide us through the play, with all of them playing multiple parts. Adam Odsess-Rubin is excellent as 1, who plays Romeo, and is apparently is still in closet, but his attraction for 2, who plays Juliet, comes out marvelously in bits and pieces. Mike Sagun and James Arthur nicely play other roles.

Ben Randle's direction is sharp and full of energy. Yusuke Soi has designed a mostly bare stage with chairs and a table, plus a blackboard with Arabic letters on it.

Shakespeare's R & J runs through December 14th, 2014, at the intimate Walker Theatre of the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave. San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or visit Coming up next is the return of Avenue Q opening on December 5th.

Photo: Lois Tema

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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