Fueled by eagerness and discovery, the adventurous years of adolescence are marked by short-lived innocence brimming with new found desires and interests. The ambitious age’s many pursuits, however, are often sought out amidst great adversity — sentiments are conveyed in Shakespeare’s R&J, a unique rendition of the famous love story peformed by students at the College of Charleston as part of the Stelle di Domani series.
In R&J, four captivating actresses deliver enticing performances portraying the passion-filled years of adolescence. Oppressed by the rigidity of a Catholic boarding school, the female students are lured into a new, unchartered world after discovering Shakespeare’s famous love story, Romeo and Juliet. The play ushers in new era for the student at this constrictive school, one in which they have begun to assert themselves as individuals. Director Katie Huard’s adaptation of Joe Colarko’s script boasts cultivates an intimate connection between the audience and performers as each student sheds their dull exterior and begins to reveal their distinctive, colorful personalities. The versatility of each actor is also on display on stage; the performers are constantly switchign between their roles as Catholic school girls and characters in Shakespeare’s drama.
Abby Kammeraad-Campbell (as Romeo) and Emily McKay (as Juliet) lead the audience through heartfelt love scenes. While their mutual infatuation captivates the audience thanks in part to their emotionally gripping performances, their transformation from personality-less students to animated characters also maintains the audience’s interest.
One student’s dynamic transformation into the story’s nurse, played by Liz Coralli, provides entertaining moments of levity between Romeo and Juliet’s intense love scenes. A captivating performance by Mercutio, played by Palmer Stowe, also injects humor into many scenes.
Huard’s streamlined adaptation of Calarco’s script focuses on pertinent issues, including widely held prejudices against homosexuality. The performance reaches a pinnacle when Romeo and Juliet — played by two actresses, of course — share a steamy, first-time kiss.
As the students’ involvement with the script intensifies, their connection with the story’s themes deepen, oftentimes challenging their personal beliefs and blurring the line between their roles as students and Shakespeare characters. While immersed in Romeo and Juliet’s wedding scene, Stowe abandons her role as Mercutio and returns to her strict, student persona, ripping the controversial book out of Romeo’s hands and ferociously tearing out the scandalous pages.
The script’s compelling performances, as well as the relevant and relatable themes, may cause audience members to pause and reflect on the critical moments defining their adolescent years.