Eugene Weekly : Theater : 8.14.08

Tender Is the Night
And strong the boys of Shakespeare
By Suzi Steffen

The Capulet parents (Warren Kluber, Sam Greenspan and Jason Sample-March) speak disapprovingly to Juliet (Craig Lamm). Photo: Gretchyn Drew

Want a fresh take on an oft-produced classic? An evening of surprising emotion wrung from a story you’ve probably heard too many times? Then head to Shakespeare’s R+J, playing for just one more weekend at the Lord Leebrick Theatre.

Lots of the Bard in these environs at the moment — Merry Wives of Windsor at Shakespeare in the Park, which runs through Aug. 30 at Amazon Community Park, and The Comedy of Errors with the Roving Park Players, opening at Bethel Community Park Saturday, Aug. 16 (see the Calendar for details) — but this one’s a bit different. As I mentioned in last week’s preview, Leebrick Artistic Director Craig Willis read the play years ago and kept the idea of directing it simmering on some back burner. Then, when a number of talented young actors auditioned this spring for John Schmor’s Hamlet/zombie mashup Or Not to Be, Willis realized he had a chance to cast and direct Joe Calarco’s play-within-a-play. Well, lucky Eugene.

The Leebrick has a small space for a stage, and the actors on it usually have to work with fairly complex sets, which means their acting can’t get too physical. But in R+J, with only a trunk and a long furl of red cloth as props and set, the four actors get serious with physical options. Young men playing even younger men — high school boys in a repressed boarding school, hiding what they’re doing — they bounce off of each other and the floor, sometimes using force to communicate what they can’t outwardly state. 

The actors must convey the boys’ feelings almost purely by glance and movement because most of the script comes from Shakespeare, and none of it from their own thoughts. Best at this is Craig Lamm as Student 2, who primarily plays Juliet. Jason Sample-March plays Student 1, who serves most often as Romeo; in a key moment of the young lovers’ marriage scene, Sample-March must convey the nimble mind of the student while retaining Romeo’s love for Juliet — and he does it well. 

A bit more of the boys and a bit less of Shakespeare’s play would help the second half, but that’s a fault in the script. Willis’ direction and the malleable bodies of the four actors, combined with a fair go at dealing with Shakespearean cadence, make this one a production not to miss.

Shakespeare’s R+J runs through Aug. 17 at the Lord Leebrick Theatre. or 465-1506 for tix.