By Tristan Lejeune
The crowds at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater were a rowdy bunch.
They booed villains, cat-called sex scenes, and tried to warn Desdemona about danger lurking just off-stage. They were the malnutritioned kind of drunk.
So setting a production of Romeo and Juliet, one of the Bard’s most accessible tragedies, at a Petworth bar makes more sense than it might seem at first blush. The play is cuddly and intimate — no battlefields or royal court scenes — and it features lots of bawdy jokes and one of Shakespeare’s best parties. Have a drink!
Actually, have six, because LiveArtDC’s production of “R+J: Star Cross’d Death Match” is practically more drinking game than play, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Adapted by Ben Charles and Lori Wolter Hudson and directed by Sara Bickler, “Star Cross’d” is perfect for two kinds of “Romeo & Juliet” theatregoers: those so familiar with the material they could practically recite the balcony scene from memory, and those for whom the idea of spending an evening listening to iambic pentameter while surrounded by grey hair sounds like torture.
There was no grey hair at DC Reynolds on Saturday night (actually, I doubt there were any 40-year-olds), but we lost some of the verse as well. Unsurprisingly, bars are better for the louder side of poetry.
Upon entrance to the performance space, audience members are given their solo cup, and thus their team: red for Capulet, blue for Montague, and you drink when your family’s name is said. This happens juuuuuust often enough to be fun but not obnoxious. Before the show begins, there’s lots of flip cup and shuffling. After the show begins, there’s even more flip cup and shuffling (the crowd has to move to view different scenes) and also masks, strings of lights, Mad Libs, lots of 21st century curse words, and shots.
If you’re searching for a Fringe experience closer to getting drunk with an improv troupe than sitting on your ass in a dark room, we might have found it for you right here.
Romeo, in shorts, and Juliet, in tight jeans, meet on the dance floor, pledge themselves out-of-doors across a cast-iron fire escape, and end up dead laid out on — what else? — the bar, as if at an Irish wake. As the doomed lovers of the title, X and Y have a kinetic derring-do that keeps the whole beer-sodden affair moving forward nicely.
In scenes between Juliet and her family, or Romeo and his friends, the two leads pump their lines with modern vim and Elizabethan verve. They’re both great solo. Their scenes together, however, don’t survive the venue quite as well. This “bar play” is too boisterous for pillow talk, for example, too Something for Sweet Nothings.
Theirs is hardly the only shared intimacy in the show that gets swallowed up, but it is the greatest loss. Fortunately, there’s a lot of loud pining in Romeo and Juliet (he pines, she pines, even Mercutio pines…) and that gets through.
The R+J of the title brings to mind Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation, and also Joe Calarco’s play Shakespeare’s R&J — two offerings that show how fresh a 520-year-old script can feel. This one feels hella new as well, and if there are parts of it that didn’t survive the translation, then you probably just need another beer.