Shakespeare’s R and J

Adapted by Joe Calarco

Director Jack Paterson

Dates and Venue 7 – 18 November 2006 Beaumont Studios, 316 W. 5th Avenue, Vancouver

Reviewer Jane Penistan

In a black box theatre with minimal set, props and costumes, this cleverly, artistically lit production relies on the actors and their speech for its great success. Jack Paterson, the director, has had the courage to trust the script and his actors. The result is a completely absorbing presentation.

Four schoolboys discover Shakespeare and demonstrate his power. While only one of the cast (Daryl King) looks young enough to be at school, the other three members of the cast, Jason Emanuel, Omari Newton and Josh Drebit perform without trying to be juvenile. The result is stunning.

Dressed in school uniform of crested blue sweater, white shirt, school tie and grey flannels, the play opens with the boys marching on stage and then repeating fragments from classroom lessons and chapel services. Once the cherished volume of Shakespeare is opened to be read by the four, the regimentation ends and Shakespeare’s glorious words take over the cast and audience.

Beginning with a quote from Midsummer Night’s Dream, the boys then play Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio, Tybalt, the Capulets and Montagues, their servants, priests, and civic dignitaries. Linking scenes together are sonnets r lines from other plays, spoken chorally to rhythmic, weaving patterns of movement. A red stole is used variously to denote belligerence, a change of character, a fight, or whatever is needed to link the characters, or to emphasize a role.

The excellence of the speech and the intelligent delivery of the lines completely enthrall the audience. For this reason, this is probably one of the most engrossing performances one is likely to see.

The four actors change roles without missing a beat. Great praise is due to Daryl King, who joined the cast only a few days before opening night. His change of character from Juliet to Benvolio, or Friar John is clear, seamless nd believable. Omari Newton’s use of his large vocal range and his control over a prodigious volume of sound is impeccable. Josh Drebit shows that though he is the comedian of the troop, he is also a competent straight actor.

Performing Shakespeare as it was in his day may be looked at askance. This production transcends convention using the power of the poetry and the genius of the playwright. The cross-gendering of the actors becomes immaterial. While this may be unacceptable to the strict scholastic doctrine of the boys’ school, in which it is set, it cannot, in fact, cloud the essential depth of understanding and compassion of Shakespeare’s work.

This production should not be missed. It is well written, brilliantly directed and outstandingly well performed.

© 2006 Jane Penistan