William Shakespeare’s plays have seen more adaptations, re-imaginings, and contemporary reinterpretations than, perhaps, any other artistic works in literary history. He laid the foundations for so much of what came after, that writers and directors must feel some primal urge to put their own face on that looming specter of exalted artistic achievement.
Add to that list Joe Calarco’s bold entry into the canon of Shakespeare derivatives, Shakespeare’s R & J. At the very least, his version of Romeo and Juliet contains little dancing and even less singing. Rather than modernizing the dialogue, this version relies on the bard’s original words, albeit in an abridged fashion.
The play centers around four boarding school boys who decide to stage the play in an act of after-school boredom. The exercise quickly becomes a vehicle for the two principles to explore their latent homosexual desire. Although the introduction of homo-erotic overtones into Shakespeare’s work is nothing new (remember, these parts were all originally played by men and boys in Elizabethan England) the post-modern analysis of performance, the drama of dramaturgy, posits a much more intriguing theme than the majority of such rehashes. Shakespeare might even have appreciated the deconstruction, a writer who had his most famous character, Hamlet, describe the actor’s role as “to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature.”
R &J opens tonight at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts (500 S. Goodwin Ave.) at 7:30 p.m. followed by performances Feb. 8 & 9, 13-16 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 17 at 3 p.m.