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Just in case Shakespeare’s teenage drama isn’t enough to attract today’s attention-deficient audiences, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s all-male production of Romeo and Juliet adds an old twist to a classic play.

James Davis—a hunky, six-foot-one, 23-year-old Julliard graduate and self-proclaimed “gym rat” gets in touch with his feminine side and plays a delicate, but broad-chested 13-year-old Juliet. His Romeo, Finn Wittrock, is slightly shorter, but makes up for stature with charm, talent, and looks. Though chemistry doesn’t naturally fly between the two, Davis and Wittrock both take ownership of Shakespeare’s rich dialogue and deliver it in a way that is fresh and new—even giving the prototypical balcony scene an amusing and clever facelift.

The most salacious Elizabethan tranny act comes via Drew Eshelman, who nails the part of Juliet’s babbling, but loveable nurse. Teet-less Eshelman perfectly plays a soft-hearted hag, striking the balance between a tender, maternal wet-nurse and an androgynous curmudgeon. Tom Beckett meanwhile struts his stuff in red velvet as a haughty Lady Capulet.

A high level of testosterone is sustained with skillful sword fighting and commanding performances by Dan Kremer who plays Juliet’s overbearing father and Aubrey Deeker as a Mercutio with a saucy bark that nearly matches the deadly bite of his thumb. A three-man folk band that randomly appears in a There’s-Something-About-Mary fashion adds a nice spontaneous musical touch to the drama, comedy, and action.

The effect of an all-male cast isn’t as distracting or as striking as one would think. The first half of the play is conveniently a comedy and allows for the cross-dressing to easily accent the farce itself. Once Mercutio and Tybalt are slain and the drama begins, one has already become acclimated to the characters in drag. One downside might be the credibility of Romeo and Juliet’s fierce and fiery love as underemphasized by the production’s G-rated antiseptic love scenes—which are far from the lustful passion and steaminess that we’ve grown so accustomed to.

For the relatively traditional Shakespeare Theatre Company—which has never staged an all-male production—it’s a pretty big deal. As for the rest of us who were introduced to Romeo and Juliet via middle school English teachers and Luhrmann’s Leonardo DiCaprio version, the all-male cast illuminates the poetry that Shakespeare used to construct the world of his characters without boobs, book reports or cinematic fireworks to get in the way.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTvMRHd8wC4

ROMEO AND JULIET
Starring James Davis, Finn Wittrock, Drew Eshelman, Aubrey Deeker, Jeffrey Kuhn, Lawrence Redmond, Tom Beckett, Dan Kremer, and more. Written by Shakespeare. Directed by David Muse. Set Design by Scott Bradley and costumes by Jennifer Moeller. At Shakespeare Theatre’s Sidney Harman Hall through October 12.

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