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A CurtainUp Review
Romeo and Juliet

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!-- .— Romeo
All-male versions of Romeo and Juliet are the rage this season. Last month John Logan’s film Private Romeo premiered in New York, and now The Tragedians of the City make their theatrical debut at the Chenurchin Theater with an all-male production of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy.

While Logan’s film found a military metaphor that brilliantly enhanced the drama, The Tragedians of the City’s miss the mark with a tediously long production that clocks in at three hours.

First, I would like to express my admiration for this new company’s dedication to the classics, and for undertaking Romeo and Juliet. Although Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy is often touted as a crowd-pleaser, it can be tricky to stage for even the most seasoned companies. (The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet at The New York Armory last summer failed to charm the majority of New York critics). Thus, this fledgling company should take heart with their premiere outing, which in our same-sex marriage era, is both politically-correct and romantically in tune.

According to the show’s promotional literature, this Romeo and Juliet is influenced by the neo-realism film Rome Open City. Honestly, not much of this is clear in their staging. Whereas the 1945 landmark film evoked the Nazi occupation of Italy in the waning days of World War II, this production strictly follows Shakespeare’s text, with its singular distinction being the gender-bending. Gabriel Hainer Evansohn’s se does faintly suggest street scenes and dilapidated Italian buildings, and Katja Andreiev modern-day costumes are thread-bare, but the set and costumes are hardly k emblematic of World War II, or any other past or present war.

That said, if you have some feeling for Romeo and Juliet (and who doesn’t?), and approach the play with love, you will overlook some of the production’s shortcomings and appreciate a few of its charming moments.

The architecture of the Chenurchin Theater, with its high balconies framing the stage, is an ideal fit for the play’s famous “balcony scene.” Though I usually find this scene becomes a cliché in performance, it surprisingly took organic hold here. Call it a happy marriage of the “page” to the physical “stage.”

The 15-member ensemble is comprised of mostly young actors, including Michael R. Piazza and John Early in the titular leads. Though Piazza’s Romeo has a solid command of the verse, and Early’s Juliet makes a good showing, the standout performers here are Paul Corning as the swaggering Mercutio, and Glenn Hergenhahn, as The Nurse.

The Tragedians of the City join a growing number of all-male companies willing to take on the Bard’s works. Most notably, there’s Edward Hall’s (son of Sir Peter Hall) internationally-renowned Propeller theatre company, which regularly visits The Brooklyn Academy of Music. Hall has raised the bar for all-male companies performing Shakespeare. The Tragedians of the City may have to whip up their Shakespeare to make it somehow stand out from Hall’s crackerjack company.

As directed by Anya Saffir, this Romeo and Juliet may be worth a visit for those who want to see a gender-bending staging of Shakespeare’s classic. At three hours this is no breeze of a show but , with tickets priced at $20, it’s a bargain for seeing a live performance of the Bard’s biggest tear-jerker.

Romeo and Juliet
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Anya Saffir
Cast: Matthew Hanson (Montague, Apothecary), John-Michael Scapin (Lady Montague, Friar John), Paul Eddy (Benvolio), Will Irons (Abraham, Balthazar, Watchmen), Michael R. Piazza (Romeo), Scott Walker (Capulet), Clayton Early (Lady Capulet), Glenn Hergenhahn (The Nurse, Watchmen), Daniel Brian Jones (Peter, Chief Watchman), Chris Hale (Tybalt), Benjamin Weaver (Samson), John Early (Juliet), Vladimir Margolin (Friar Laurence), Sam Dash (The Prince), Benjamin Weaver (Paris), Paul Corning (Mercutio).
Sets and lighting: Gabriel Hainer Evansohn
Costumes: Katja Andreiev
Composer: Cormac Bluestone
Fight choreographer:Turner Smith
Choreographer: Alison Beatty Stage Manager: Kai Barker
The Chenurchin Theater at the American Theater of Actors, at 314 W. 54th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues). Tickets: $20. Phone Brown Paper Tickets
From 2/29/12; opening 3/4/12; closing 3/17/12.
Wednesday through Sunday @ 8pm, with Saturday matinees @ 2pm on March 10 and March 17.
Running time: 3 hours including intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 3/1/12
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