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Open: 09/25/13- Close: 10/04/13 R+j: Star-cross'd Death Match
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Ashley Griffin

“R+J: Star-Cross’d Death Match” is a fantastic night at the theater – for two completely different reasons, and appealing to two very different types of people. So, if you are a fun loving person who thinks Shakespeare is kind of boring, and prefers sangria to sonnets – please jump to section A. If you are a theater going intellectual who adores the Bard and understands every mythological reference in his collected cannon – please jump to section B.

A

“…Star-Cross’d Death Match” is probably the funnest night you’ll have at the theater for a long time. In fact, it’s more like a frat party then traditional theater. The show features a plethora of drinking games, audience participatory gang rivalry, madlibs, and – oh yeah – a bar that’s open and accessible during the entire show. And we’re not talking an accessible concession bar – I mean the show takes place IN a bar. Not a theater. Actually in a bar. There’s awesome music, dancing, and a cool story too. Forget this being the funnest night at the theater you’ll have for a long time – this is the best party you’ll go to for a long time.

B

I’m with you guys. My nickname in college was Hermione Granger. I subbed for my Shakespeare teacher at NYU while I was still a student. And I never attended a frat party. In fact, I didn’t have a sip of alcohol the entire show tonight.  

Three Day Hangover has actually done something rather brilliant – they’ve created a production of “Romeo and Juliet” that is probably about as close as you could get to the experience of Shakespeare’s original audience. See, there were a lot of elements at play when audiences first saw “R+J” that are all but impossible to duplicate today: 1.) Most of the audience (groundlings) weren’t even seated – they had to stand during the entire performance, many close enough to touch the actors on stage. 2.) Audiences really didn’t care about manners in the theater. They were free to cheer, boo, yell at the characters, and even throw fruit if they didn’t like, or were bored by the performance. Soliloquies were actually meant to be said directly to audience members. Oh yeah, and a lot of the audience members were probably drunk. 3.) The biggest entertainment competition for theater in Shakespeare’s day was Bear Bating. Shakespeare’s plays won not because they were more intellectual – but because they were more gory, and sexy. Yup – when was the last time you saw a Shakespeare play that fit that description? 4.) The music in the plays was stylistically the popular music of the day. Not music that was hundreds of years old. 5.) Oh yeah – they had never seen the play before. They didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, or what the characters were going to say. Imagine watching the balcony scene and going “What’s going to happen next?!”

In “…Star-Cross’d Death Match” we are as close to that experience as we are ever likely to be. Upon entering the bar you are given either a blue or red cup – blue for Montague, red for Capulet. The bar is very clearly divided into two camps – you join yours and instantly bond playing drinking games – and hissing at the other side. It creates a rivalry that you’re instantly invested in. Actors are easily mistaken for audience members – and they’re playing right along with you – so before the show starts you’ve made friends with the cast. You will be standing for the entire performance – running around with the actors, even looking off of the bar balcony window next to Juliet while Romeo calls from down below. And because of the fun surprises during the evening you may know where the story is headed, but you never know what’s going to happen next. The use of music is awesome – and does in a theatrical way what Baz Luhrmann aimed at with his “R+J” film.

Of course, especially in such a setting this would be impossible to pull off if you didn’t have incredibly talented artists at the helm. Many of the cast members have Broadway credits, and director Lori Wolter Hudson was the assistant director of the TONY award winning revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “The Lying Lesson.” Shakespeare’s words are beautifully clear, and are incredibly easy to understand. The poetry was as lovely as ever, but almost more impressive, the word play and bawdy humor were actually communicated, and elicited riotous laughter. These are really good actors performing Shakespeare really well in a crazy, fun, highly accessible setting. And despite the drinking/improv/etc. I always felt safe, and in good hands.

The whole cast was fantastic. Nick Mills and Suzy Jane Hunt as Romeo and Juliet respectively gave us not only the beautiful sincerity of our star-crossed lovers, but were the first Romeo and Juliet I’ve seen who actually captured their youth and (dare I say it) immaturity. Several roles were cast cross-gendered – special props have to go to the stunning Grace Gealey as Tybalt, and Paul Kite (who will soon be on Broadway in “Macbeth”) as the Nurse and Sampson. Lori Wolter Hudson is an incredible director – and I’m very excited to see how her career develops. Ben Charles did a wonderful job adapting the script.

In essence, this is one of the smartest productions of a Shakespeare play I’ve ever seen. But don’t tell that to group “A.”

A and B – go see this show as fast as you can. I certainly plan on seeing anything these artists do in the future. 

Venue:
Harley's Smokeshack Westside : 356 West 44 Street