MUST SEETheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Shakespeare’s R & J

By Joe CalarcoShakespeare's R & J by Idle Muse Theatre

Directed by Tristan Brandon

Produced by Idle Muse Theatre Company

At The Side Project, Chicago

Vibrant, enthusiastic young cast makes the mark with R & J

The creatives at Idle Muse Theatre Company have impressively mounted significant plays over the last few years. The production values and acting in their productions is outstanding. Their latest work, Joe Calarco’s four person, all-male drama is an ode to young lovers, young energy, and young actors. Shakespeare’s R & J  is a most enjoyable show that is a showcase for the four hardworking actors. Matt Dyson (Student 4) is the established Chicago actor here while Curtis Jackson is relatively new to out city. Andrew Lund and Nathan Ducker are making their Chicago professional debut in R & J. Congratulations to all four for turning in vibrant, articulate, and heartfelt performances. These guys made The Bard’s Romeo and Juliet spin manically across the stage. This foursome understood and reacted to Shakespeare’s text brilliantly.

Shakespeare's R & J by Idle Muse Theatre

Seldom to you witness non-Equity actors with so fine a grasp of Shakespeare’s text. The sheer energy of these four radiates throughout the intimate Side Project stage. Using a black box set with only a wooden pallet and a long red bolt of cloth as an all-purpose prop, the players exude imagination and verbal dexterity to present their escapist script.

Shakespeare's R & J by Idle Muse Theatre

Adapter Joe Calarco dares to have a group of prep school boys, so filled with emotional and sexual tensions, that they use acting out  Romeo & Juliet in a sheltered space on campus as a release of their bottled-up tensions. When Student 4 (Matt Dyson) whips out the text of R &J, all faces light up in mock appreciation.   Each of the four students tackless several roles to produce an edited two hour version of the classic romantic tragedy.

Early on, we get sexual vibes from Student 1 (Curtis Jackson), playing Romeo toward Andrew Lund (Student 2) playing Juliet. The sexual energy between the two is now unleashed while playing the star-crossed Shakespearean lovers. Student 3 and 4 intervene several times reminding the boys of their forbidden acting out. But, all four students exhibit homoerotic vibes  as they expertly and emotionally release their angst through role playing all the parts of R & J.  You can see the adolescent abandonment  in each player’s eyes. Their clandestine production reeks with suppressed truth. Are all these boys gay? Possibly. Some have their emotions under more control than others. These kids become memorized by text as each action and meaning resonate to their stifling existence.

Shakespeare's R & J by Idle Muse Theatre

One of the elements that makes Shakespeare’s R & J so enjoyable is the amazing articulate, fully invested acting by this talented cast. Curtis Jackson is the charismatic, good looking commanding student fully committed to playing the melancholy love-starved Romeo.  Andrew Lund was believable without being fey as he transformed his youngest facial expressions into a charming love-struck Juliet. Nathan Ducker, as Student 3,  frequently thrusts himself physically between the lovers—attempting to prevent  their seemingly unacceptable behavior and, possibly, to protect himself from his own deepest fears.  Matt Dyson effectively plays Juliet’s nurse, the ill-tempered Tybalt plus a host of adult authority figures.

Throughout the youths acting out R & J, they let loose a little then retreat into their suppressed persona. When portraying adults, they shout in unison their speeches.  While these kids use R & J to release their emotions, the cast delivers a first-class Shakespearean play fueled with intensity, sensuality, and skill. With several “all-female” productions of The Bard’s work over the last few years, it is entirely fitting to see a well directed (by Tristan Brandon)  “all male” cast render honest presentations.  Who said young actors can’t perform Shakespeare? This foursome nailed the essence of the work with verbal and physical acumen. Get to see this exciting show, it’ll renew your spirit.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Jeff Recommended

At the Side Project Theatre, 1439 W Jarvis Ave, Chicago, IL

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