Star-crossed love is not the exclusive domain of the houses of Montague and Capulet. In Shakespeare's R&J, Joe Calarco's deconstruction of Romeo and Juliet, two male students in a strict Catholic boarding school encounter passions of their own as they and two fellow scholars act out the timeless romantic tragedy.
It's an idea whose novelty wears off quickly, reducing this production at Cygnet Theatre to a stripped-down (few props, only four actors, no ornate costumes) Romeo and Juliet. There's nothing particularly startling about an all-male Romeo and Juliet if you know anything about the way in which Shakespeare's plays were originally staged. Shakespeare's R&J's story-within-the-story about the oppressed students is what's most intriguing here, and there's simply not enough of it. You want to know much more about these four young men: Not merely that they know their Latin and their higher math; not just that they know their Ten Commandments and how to recite them robotically. To discover that they have a revealing connection to Romeo and Juliet does not necessitate their clandestine enactment of the entire play, regardless of their ingenuity in pulling it off.
There's plenty of ingenuity, thanks to director George Ye and the inexhaustible cast (Christian Daly, Tyler Lea, Dave Thomas Brown and John Evans Reese). Objects as elementary as flashlights and a wispy strip of red fabric stand in for light, swords and blood, and the students' uniforms are cleverly used to suggest changes of character (everyone plays multiple roles).
As Shakespeare's R&J nears its conclusion, you may begin to wonder how you sat through all those Romeo and Juliets in your past and why the balcony scene gets so much pub. The original play is a pretext here, a vehicle for adolescent rebellion and recognition of truths and desires. This, however, is understood almost from the opening scene. It may not be what Calarco had in mind, but you can't help but want one of the emoting students to break character and share another, more personal story than one we've seen and heard so many times before.
Shakespeare's R&J runs through June 16 at The Old Town Theatre. $44-$47. cygnettheatre.com
A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Greek forest is alive with fairies, magic potions and the pursuit of love in the opener of The Old Globe's summer Shakespeare Festival. Opens June 2 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Becoming Cuba: A world-premiere performance of a drama that focuses on a single family in Cuba as the country gains its independence from Spain at the close of the 19th century. Opens May 29 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. nortcoastrep.org
Steal Heaven: This is a staged reading of a comedy written by and starring Culture Clash's Herbert Siguenza, in which leftist Abbie Hoffman is in an otherworldly old-folks home and schooling modern-day activists. Staged on Thursday, May 30, at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Underground New Play Festival: Four short plays written, performed and staged by UCSD undergrads. Each performance features two plays. Runs May 31 and June 1, and again on June 7 and 8. theatre.ucsd.edu
The Sound of Music: Reportedly, rolling hills, animated by music, come to life in a story about an aspiring nun and an Austrian family at the onset of World War II. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it runs through May 29 at the Birch North Park Theatre. sdmt.org
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo: Ion Theatre Company explores the Iraq war through a story about two American soldiers and a talking tiger freed from the Baghdad Zoo. Through June 1 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
I Love My Computer Because My Friends Live in It: The new musical by Broadway Vista co-owner Randall Hickman focuses on five women and their electronic-communication and social-media exploits. Through June 1 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Green Day's American Idiot: A musical based on Green Day's 2004 concept album of the same name follows three disaffected young men as they flee a stifling life in suburbia. Through June 2 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. broadwaysd.com
Other Desert Cities:A novelist visits her famous parents in Palm Springs amid her plans to publish a memoir that unearths an unpleasant family secret. Through June 2 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Six adults play quirky middle-school students in a musical comedy that spans the length of a spelling contest. Through June 8 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Be a Good Little Widow: In a melancholy comedy, a young woman's unsatisfying marriage ends early when her husband dies, leaving her to cope with her heard-to-please mother-in-law and learn a thing or two about herself. Through June 9 at The Old Globe Theatre's Sheryl and Harvey White Stage in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Seascape:Tension surrounds a long-married couple when they encounter a couple of human-size, talking reptiles on the beach in Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Through June 9 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Shakespeare's R&J: The Bard's classic tragedy is recontextualized by four male Catholic military-school cadets. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through June 16 at The Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Moonlight and Magnolias: A farcical look at what happens when legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick locks himself and two others in a room for five days so they can finish the script for Gone with the Wind. Through June 23 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
The Divine Sister: A bawdy parody of wholesome 1960s-era movies reveals what secrets lie within St. Veronica's convent school. Through June 30 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Fiddler on the Roof: The romantic notions of a working-class Russian Jew's daughters are a total pain in his traditional butt. Through June 30 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
His Girl Friday: In an adaptation of the 1940 film, a reporter planning to leave the business is convinced by her editor and ex-husband to stay in the game for one last scoop. Through June 30 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net