Signature Theatre teams up this winter with Artistic Associate Joe Calarco for a bold new production of Calarco's play Shakespeare's R&J. Presented as Signature's first-ever production in-the-round, with a revised script never before heard in North America, Calarco's modern-day drama melds the timeless power of Romeo and Juliet with an imaginative new coming-of-age tale.
When a repressive all-male Catholic boarding school bans Romeo and Juliet in favor of Latin conjugations and the Ten Commandments, four students unearth a secret copy of the script and steal into the night to recite the prohibited tale of adolescent passion. What begins as a lark gradually yields surprising discoveries about greed, love, and adulthood. Brought to life by four exceptional actors (Rex Daugherty, Jefferson Farber, Alex Mills, and Joel David Santner), Calarco's drama within a drama transcends the boundaries between play and player.
Calarco will direct the production, running February 5 to March 3, 2013 in Signature's MAX Theatre. Scenic designer James Kronzer, lighting designer Chris Lee, and costume designer Kathleen Geldard will join Calarco on the creative team.
"I'm thrilled to have Artistic Associate Joe Calarco back with us at Signature," said Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer. "We've never produced a Shakespeare play in our 23-year history, and it's exciting to be able to bring Joe's vision of this play to Washington."
"Our goal is to enhance what Romeo and Juliet really is - wildly passionate and sexy," said Calarco. "We're going to re-fuel the show and make people see it in a fresh way. I often find productions of Romeo and Juliet to be a little boring and sweet. But the play is hot with violence and sex and passion in a visceral way. That's what Romeo and Juliet is supposed to be, and often what it's not. We have to unearth the real play."
A lot of the fun, Calarco adds, comes from watching two stories unfold at once. "For much of the show you're hearing the text of Romeo and Juliet, but you're also watching these four young men change because of this play and its power to transform your world. It's really an ode to the teaching power of theatre."
It's a fitting theme for Calarco, who is no stranger to youth education through the arts. Calarco has worked closely with Signature Theatre in recent years on the Signature in the Schools program, writing over half a dozen original plays for Signature. The script for Shakespeare's R&J, too, has taken on an educative role outside of Calarco's involvement. "Internationally it's being produced a lot. The script is being taught in classes about gender. I'm very proud of it," said Calarco. "I'm so excited to bring it back to this area, especially with a revised script that almost no one here has heard before."
The New York Times has called Shakespeare's R+J "A small miracle... Joe Calarco would appear to be a theater man of imagination and vision. This production is truly astonishing." Of a production in the West End, The Times of London wrote: "I've seldom seen teenage isolation, insecurity, vulnerability and pain so touchingly evoked."