COURTESY LOIS TEMAFrom left

COURTESY LOIS TEMAFrom left

NCTC's Middle East -set ‘R&J’ doesn’t transcend context

In the late 1990s, playwright Joe Calarco set his abridged, four-actor version of “Romeo and Juliet” (a tragedy about forbidden love between two teenagers from feuding families) in a Catholic boys’ school.

“Shakespeare’s R&J” depicts four classmates who apparently go off on their own to read the play aloud just for fun (in what reality might that be likely to happen?) and gradually get subsumed by their characters.

In gay-specific New Conservatory Theatre Center’s new version (the company originally staged the play 12 years ago), director Ben Randle imagines a specific world that’s dangerous not just for homosexuals but also for ordinary people: post-Arab Spring Cairo.

The setting is indicated by a note in the program as well as a blackboard with Arabic writing, a pair of keffiyehs of contrasting colors (cleverly, the play’s only costumes changes) and a quartet of actors of various ethnicities (a youthful-looking Adam Odsess-Rubin as Romeo, Taj K. Campbell as Juliet, plus James Arthur M. as the Nurse and other roles and Mike Sagun as the Friar and other roles).

This setting allows for a sense of danger outside the classroom: a bomb, ominous sound effects (by designer Stephen Abts). And it factors in our awareness of everything we know about social repression and incipient violence in the Middle East.

Of course, two pubescent boys taking on the Bard’s title characters in a restrictive all-male environment (or, for that matter, any two actors at all, in any circumstances) could fall temporarily in love, perhaps discovering their latent sexual desires, or just their inner Method actor — or merely thrill at breaking school rules.

And the Capulets and the Montagues could represent any feuding groups today whose enmity endures for generations.

Yet Randle’s concept tends to feel shoehorned in, especially since the script gives the players no contemporary dialogue, consisting, as it does, entirely of “R & J,” plus a few sonnets and snippets from other Bard plays and some interspersed recitation of rote and ironic classroom lessons.

But, as well directed and acted as it is (it’s crisply paced and choreographed on Yusuke Soi’s beautifully simple set, and the cast performs Shakespeare’s poetry with alacrity and a confident clarity), there’s something missing.

With the all the implications of this version’s context, we are never fully enough focused on the central action — the two boys’ slowly increasing, almost helpless, sense of rising passion and ambivalent self-awareness — to become emotionally involved.

REVIEW

Shakespeare’s R&J

Where: New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. most Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 14

Tickets: $25 to $45

Contact: (415) 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org

artsJoe CalarcoNew Conservatory Theatre CenterShakespeare’s R&J

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A warning notice sits under the windshield wiper of a recreational vehicle belonging to a homeless man named David as it sits parked on De Wolf Street near Alemany Boulevard on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. A proposed SF Municipal Transportation Agency law would make it illegal for overnight parking on the side street for vehicles taller than seven feet or longer than 22 feet. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA to resume ‘poverty tows’ amid calls to make temporary ban permanent

Fines and fees hurt low-income, homeless residents, but officials say they are a necessary tool

A broad coalition of tenants and housing rights organizers rally at Stanley Mosk Courthouse to protest eviction orders issued against renters Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Federal judge strikes down CDC’s national moratorium on evictions

David Yaffe-Bellany, Noah Buhayar Los Angeles Times A federal judge in Washington… Continue reading

San Francisco Unified School District spends less in the classroom than other large school districts but has more senior administrative staff.
Data shows SFUSD behind other districts on tax funding, classroom spending

With spending cuts on the horizon, school board members are taking a… Continue reading

City Attorney Dennis Herrera is seeking injunctions preventing those arrested on drug dealing charges in the Tenderloin from returning to the area. 
Examiner file photo
Judge to rule on Herrera’s new plan for tackling Tenderloin drug dealing

A San Francisco judge heard arguments Tuesday on whether City Attorney Dennis… Continue reading

A metal strongbox with appliques (circa AD 1-79) from Parco Archeologico di Pompei is among the items on view in “Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave.” (Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)
Legion of Honor reopens with two original exhibitions

Museum showcases ancient objects from Pompeii, bold new sculptures

Most Read