’R&J’ in SD
When four boys from an oppressive Catholic boarding school get their hands on a forbidden copy of "Romeo and Juliet," a night of revelations, unexpected intimacy and universal truths result. Cygnet Theatre will be mounting the San Diego premiere this May of Joe Calarco’s acclaimed, all-male adaptation of Shakespeare’s most beloved work at the Old Town Theatre.
Dubbed "Shakespeare’s R&J," Calarco’s simple yet bold interpretation was first presented in New York City in 1998. I was lucky enough to see this excellent, original staging, which won the prestigious Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Production. It ran for a year before moving on to numerous regional and international productions, including one in Japan and has been called "arresting," "vibrant" and "hot-blooded."
"R&J" features a minimalist approach, especially when compared with the Bard’s text, with no set and few costumes or props. Cygnet Theatre’s production is directed by the company’s Associate Artistic Director George Ye, also an adjunct assistant professor in U.S.D. Department of Theatre Arts, spoke with The Rage Monthly about this highly-anticipated play he has long wanted to direct.
"Some years back, it was on the table at Cygnet and I wanted to direct it then, but it got taken away from us for some reason," Ye recounts. "More recently, Artistic Director Sean Murray called me and said, ’We’re going to do it, are you interested?’" Ye said yes. He is also excited that "R&J" marks the first full production he has directed at the Old Town Theatre since Cygnet took the space over.
When Calarco wrote his adaptation, he didn’t set out to make it "a gay play." It has often been dubbed so, however, since it focuses on a group of boys enacting what many consider one of the most romantic tales ever told - public displays of affection and all.
"At first it’s unique, it’s an exciting idea," Ye said about the relevance of an all-male version of Romeo and Juliet. "In Shakespeare’s time, all the female roles were played by male actors so it partly harkens to that. Ultimately though, it’s a human story that raises all sorts of questions about gender, adolescence, sexuality, oppression, politics and love." More recently though, as Ye revealed, the author came to embrace the description of R&J as a gay play and has revised his script to heighten this coming-of-age dimension.
Ye intends to explore the theme or issue of homosexual oppression with his cast as well. In a unique arrangement between Murray and his alma mater, the North Carolina School of the Arts, all four professional actors in the San Diego production of R&J are graduates of the Artistic Director’s old stomping ground. Dave Thomas Brown, Christian Daly, Tyler Lea and John Evans Reese will participate and all except Daly will be making their Cygnet Theatre debut.
"Two of the actors are now working in New York and two just graduated," said Ye. "What’s more, they have all performed together in ’R&J’ before. I’m getting an instant, ensemble group of actors who already know each other and are comfortable with each other, which is really unusual."
Ye, who is himself a professional actor and fight director, hails from Kansas City. When I jokingly mentioned, "I hear everything is up to date there," he replied "Yeah, maybe in 1810!" After earning his Master of Fine Arts degree in Florida and his M.A. in Performance Studies from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, he moved to Southern California and has directed productions for numerous San Diego-area theatre companies.
Of his hopes for R&J, Ye said this: "I think it’s going to be a very unique interpretation that hasn’t been seen before, with an intricate storytelling framework that people will enjoy and some really talented performers. If you think you know Shakespeare, I can guarantee you’ve never seen it like this!"
Shakespeare’s R&J runs from Wednesday, May 22 through Sunday, June 16, for more information or to purchase tickets for the San Diego