They might not be sporting doublets and hose, and modern day expletives might weave their way into Shakespeare’s elegant verse now and then, but the performers of R+J: Star Cross’d Death Match are using nontraditional means to achieve a very traditional end. They are performing Shakespeare the way it was originally intended: raunchily, unapologetically, and with plenty of booze.
Originally produced by Three Day Hangover and presented by LiveArtDC, this brazenly interactive interpretation of Romeo and Juliet breathes new life into a 450-year-old classic tragedy. The story itself needs little introduction—boy meets girl, they fall in love, families disapprove, bloodshed ensues—but the way this production reimagines Shakespeare’s love story deserves abundant praise.
Participants (“audience” is too passive a word for this experience) join the story before they even enter DC Reynolds bar. After checking with the outdoor box office, they are forced to choose sides via color-coded solo cups: red for Capulet, blue for Montague. These props immediately become integral to the story, as participants nominate a flip cup champion to represent their faction in the epic family feud.
Engagement with the story doesn’t end when the prologue begins, however.Participants follow Juliet up to her balcony, dance the Wobble at the Capulets’ famous party, even take shots alongside murdered characters. Singing, cheering, and laughing is encouraged, making the participants as much a part of the storytelling process as the actors—not that they don’t deserve heaps of acclaim as well.
As anyone who has performed before knows, actors feed off of their audience’s energy—to that end, this ensemble is the fattest, happiest, most energized group you’ll see all of Fringe. They weave in and out of the original text whenever necessary, breaking to laugh at the foolishness of the lovers’ plight, stopping to chat with participants and invite them in on the action, dashing from one side of the bar to another during scene changes and taking swigs of beer along the way.
That doesn’t mean these aren’t accomplished Shakespearean actors—far from it. Each performer wields superb control of the text, highlighting comedic moments and making the narrative sparklingly clear. Romeo, played by a charmingly buffoonish Josh Adams, performs young love at its most elemental level. Loren Bray’s Juliet is the embodiment of teenage lust and rebellion, a refreshing shift from the all-too-common ingénue interpretation.
R+J: Star Cross’d Death Match
by William Shakespeare (adapted by Ben Charles and Lori Wolter Hudson)
at DC Reynolds Bar
3628 Georgia Ave NW
Washington, DC 20010
Details and tickets
Purists might argue that this production verges from the original play’s intent—and it’s true, this is probably one of the funnier versions of a Shakespearian tragedy on the market. But inviting the audience into the story, even if it means sacrificing some of its darker moments, ultimately makes this interpretation heart wrenchingly honest. This isn’t just a story of “death-mark’d” love; it’s also a story of stupid, sexy, unadulterated love—and that’s a story that deserves a drink.