Boys will be boys — and therein lies Verona’s misfortune. Such is the subtext in the gripping “Romeo and Juliet” brought to the Capital Fringe Festival by We Happy Few Productions. This propulsive, 90-minute, eight-actor version of Shakespeare’s play emphasizes how macho energies feed, and make inevitable, the eponymous lovers’ tragedy.
In the production, directed by Hannah Todd, male actors play all the roles, with the exception of Juliet, portrayed by Raven Bonniwell. (Todd and Bonniwell founded We Happy Few last year.) In notes in the playbill, Todd writes that the casting reflects a desire to explore how, in the world of the play, “women’s lives are . . . completely at the mercy of men.”
The dominance and danger of testosterone registers in the production’s initial tableau: guys in sleeveless T-shirts standing in thuggish poses around the stage, which is bare except for a black platform with steps. (Curry Hackett is scenic designer; Audrey Rose Barber designed the modern minimalist costumes.) The theme reverberates further in subsequent scenes of boyish roughhousing and alpha-male assault. Romeo (Sean Hudock), Mercutio (William Vaughan) and Benvolio (Kiernan McGowan) frequently banter while tussling. Lord Capulet (Chris Genebach) locks Tybalt (Nathan James Bennett) in a near-half nelson when the latter threatens to disrupt the Capulet feast. As for the actual fight scenes, they are desperate slugfests in which the use of blades almost seems an afterthought. (Casey Kaleba is fight director.)
Fortunately, the production is more than a men-are-from-Mars concept piece. The technically assured Hudock, who looks as if he has just stepped out of a boy band, is a terrific innocent-but-passionate Romeo. Vaughan, who delivers one of Mercutio’s speeches while doing push-ups, intriguingly suggests psychological fissures running through this doomed, witty character. As Lord Capulet, Genebach, who played the title character in the “Hamlet” We Happy Few brought to Fringe last year, segues deftly from harried host and dad to brutal domestic tyrant.
The female roles give a little more pause. Surrounded by relatively realistic scenes drenched in virile mannerisms, Bennett’s Nurse and Chris Dinolfo’s Lady Capulet seem jarring. And Bonniwell doesn’t have the same facility with text as her leading man, though this Juliet’s rather modern vibe is, perhaps, in keeping with the production’s feminist perspective.
Wren is a freelance writer.
by William Shakespeare. With Paul Reisman. About 90 minutes. Through July 24 at Capital Fringe Festival. www.capfringe.org.