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Using the text of the First Folio of 1623—which does not use the “two households” prologue, for example–Shakespeare in the Square’s production of The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet treats Shakespeare like he’s the new kid in town.  The work, which runs through February 8, is directed by a nimble Dan Hasse (his troupe is known for street theater) and is closer to a staged reading than to a full production—using mostly stairs and scaffolding, it’s bare bones.  Because the play is being performed at the Gym at Judson (243 Thompson Street–between South Washington Square and 3rd Street), you might even contemplate the idea that you are watching it in a large room at an English estate—although the overall effect is unpretentious and unromantic (a modest folk ensemble is also on hand, and the actors sing with them during intermission). 

Dispensed with also are the layers of theatrical baggage we associate with the star-crossed lovers.  The smart, talented cast, on the verge of playing in a Monty Python skit—and sometimes speeding along too fast–doesn’t go in for deep character analyses, which saves them from playing versions of these parts, which have been explored ad infinitum.  Instead, the young cast (and they should be young, of course) latch onto portions of the roles that they find identifiable in a contemporary context.  This allows Juliet’s maid (Jack De Sanz) to be played as a society matron in a turban, for example; Juliet’s father (Constantine Malahias), becomes grumpy and stiff in the joints, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a checked shirt; Taylor Myers, as Juliet’s mother, is a woman, in a corset, hoping to be seen; Myers also plays a well-muscled Romeo. (Needless to say, with a cast of four men and one woman, many of the roles are played across the genders.)  Juliet, herself (Elise Kibler), portrays the part simply, straightforwardly, as does Chris Dooly as Tybalt. The effect is ideal for those who want to ascertain the clean lines of the story and the nuts and bolts of plot points—or for those who wilt at the idea of watching another overwrought Shakespeare production. After listening to this unencumbered Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, the Bard might have been convinced that he had been misinterpreted.  He, like other writers hearing their words in a workshop, might have gone back to the text to clarify–which is exactly what he did.  Thank God he finally received a full production.

The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet

Presented by Shakespeare in the Square

Directed by Dan Hasse

with

Elise Kibler, Constantine Malahias, Taylor Myers, Chris Dooly, and Jack De Sanz

Design Phil Falino, costumes by Liz McGlone, lighting by Timothy Meolaand musical direction by Chris Dubrow

Copyright 2015 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Photo: The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Pictured: Elise Kibler, Taylor Myers. Photo Credit: 2015 Jon Hess.

Press contact: Glenna Freedman.

Visit the Gym at Judson: http://www.thegymatjudson.com/

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