Fringe Spotlight: R&J, a gender reversed Romeo and Juliet

R&J Mine is Yours

Dane Oliver and Mary Ellen Schneider. Photo credit: Jenn Spain Photography

Mine is Yours Theatre Company remounts its adventurous 90-minute production of R&J, a gender-reversed Romeo and Juliet, following a successful preview run last November at Theatre of NOTE. While remaining faithful to Shakespeare’s language, R&J transforms Romeo into Romea, Juliet into Julian, Friar Laurence into Sister Laurence, etc., in an extravaganza of gender-swapping that makes this classic love story resonate in an electrifying new way.

The company knew last fall that they wanted their next production to be a fully gender-reversed Shakespeare classic. Given their mission statement to create more roles for women in every aspect of theatre, Shakespeare’s plays as written can present a challenge in terms of female representation onstage.

Mine is Yours executive director Hannah Pell explains, “Given the theatrical and legal constraints of his era, you can hardly blame Shakespeare for writing primarily male roles, and the female roles he did write are absolutely brilliant! But Shakespeare’s characters embody such fundamental truths about human nature that their words translate beautifully from one gender to another, and we wanted to see what might be revealed about these archetypal characters when you put their words in the mouths of the opposite gender.”  

Many theatergoers who saw the show in November were amazed at what the gender-reversal illuminated about not only the lovers but every character in the play. Audience members frequently declared that they heard these famous lines as if for the first time, and that their opinions of these characters were dramatically altered. Above all, as director Abby Craden says, many people who saw R&J “discovered that Shakespeare’s poetry transcends time and gender and offers us the opportunity to experience R&J as a new play – modern and feminist.”

Artistic director Mary Ellen Schneider, who plays Romea, adds, “The chance to delve deeper into these characters and this play and then share our new discoveries with a whole new audience was thrilling – we knew we had to bring this production to Fringe.”

Through the crucible of another six weeks of rehearsal, Craden and her cast pared their two-hour production down to a propulsive, exhilarating 90 minutes, getting to the pure heart of what has made this play resonate for over four hundred years. Craden says that what excites her most about reworking and remounting R&J is the chance to engage with Fringe audiences and, with them, to “question our traditional ideas about masculinity, femininity and sexuality and what is universally human in all of us.”

Craden directs a cast that includes Alan Blumenfeld (Nurse), Hayley Brown (Paris), Katherine James (Capulet/Sister Laurence), Cj Merriman (Tybalt/Apothecary), Dane Oliver (Julian), Hannah Pell (Benvolia), Taylor Jackson Ross (Mercutia/Messenger), and Mary Ellen Schneider (Romeaa). Choreography is by Sam Szabo. The production also features lighting design by Shen Heckel, costume design by Mallin Alter, videography by Leland Frankel and Nate Grams, fight choreography by Aaron Hendry and Mike Mahaffey, and stage management by James Ferrero.

R&J, a gender reversed Romeo and Juliet
June 5 – 27, 2015
The Actors Company (The Other Space)
916 N.Formosa Avenue
Tickets: $15 at hff15.org/2379
Use code THITHER for $3 off
www.mineisyourstc.com

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