In fair Petworth, at the bar DC Reynolds, is where we lay our scene. And for the two hours’ traffic of our stage, all DC Braus are buy-one, get-one-free.
Actually, that deal is good only until 9 p.m., and the show runs until nearly 10. But it takes only a slight sudsy buzz to get into the spirit for “R+J: Star-Cross’d Death Match,” a sold-out hit of the 2014 Capital Fringe Festival. LiveArtDC is the local collective that produced the show, but a New York troupe called Three Day Hangover came up with idea and the hashtag #boozyShakespeare.
The prologue to this everybody-get-loud adaptation of the Bard is a rousing game of flip cup, with actors challenging 40-plus patrons who have each opted to be on Team Montague or Team Capulet. By the time Prince/Flip Master John Stange was declared a winner — on the evening I attended, a consultant from Cleveland Park named Jari who heard about the show on the Sosh mobile app — the crowd was ready to belt out “Wonderwall,” accompanied by guitar minstrel Alex Taphanel.
Taphanel and Stange are two of the 10 performers who play almost all of the characters in Shakespeare’s classic. (Jari was drafted to play Paris.) To distinguish them from ticket-buying bar patrons, the actors are dressed in red, white and blue and wear spirited accessories from a Party City after-Independence Day clearance sale. Director Sara Bickler and team of stage managers shuffle patrons around the bar for various scenes, and it would help a bit if they donned star-spangled hats as well. (Thankfully, the dude who disconcertingly climbed on top of a couch turned out to be the fight choreographer.)
When fighting words are uttered in this “R+J,” the audience cheers, jeers and interjects expletives. Most of the dialogue is still Shakespeare’s and is delivered clearly enough to appreciate several performances. Noelle Viñas, a feisty Lea Michele look-alike, brings boozy verve to Mercutio, and the suggestion that she and Benvolio (Yoni Gray) are lovers ups the ante when her character is slain. Every time someone dies in this “R&J,” Taphanel leads a rousing chorus of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” and Thursday’s crowd lustily sang along like people who have seen way too many ASPCA commercials.
But there are a handful of serious moments, too. The balcony scene was set on the fire escape and performed in front of patrons at DC Reynolds’s still-open patio bar. When Josh Adams climbed three stories to kiss his Juliet (Loren Bray), the whole neighborhood seemed to cheer.
By evening’s end, some were pardoned, some were punished. All were invited to have another round.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.
All remaining performances sold out, 3628 Georgia Ave. NW, liveartdc.com, 120 minutes.