Hip Shot: R+J: Star-Cross’d Death Match
DC Reynolds Bar
Monday July 14 at 8 p.m.
Wednesday July 16 at 8 p.m.
Thursday July 17 at 8 p.m.
Saturday July 19 at 9 p.m.
Monday July 21 at 8 p.m.
Wednesday July 23 at 8 p.m.
Thursday July 24 at 8 p.m.
Saturday July 26 at 9 p.m.
They say: LiveArtDC brings Shakespeare’s classic play right into your favorite neighborhood joint, courtesy of NYC’s Three Day Hangover. Join us for an unbelievably fun evening of young love, rap battles, flipcup and drinking. Capulet? Montague? Who’s side are you on?
Rachel K’s take: When you really think about it, the story of Romeo and Juliet makes way more sense if all of the characters are sloppy drunk for those “two hours traffic of our stage.” What else so thoroughly explains the quick escalation of violence, the speedy intensification of romance, as a few too many games of flip cup?
LiveArtDC has clearly thought about it, setting R+J: Star-Cross’d Death Match at DC Reynolds, the Park View spot home to D.C.'s best happy hour. The Shakespeare classic is performed throughout the bar in an interactive fashion adapted from a New York production, with a plastic-hatted Prince (John Stange) shepherding the crowd from one location to the next.
When you arrive, you receive either a red or blue Solo cup, denoting which side you’re taking in the epic Verona feud. This is more to get you feeling aggressive, because it doesn't have any effect on your viewing experience. Unless, that is, you win the pre-performance flip cup tournament, thereby earning the role of Paris in the production.
The idea of a bawdy crowd drinking in the words of Shakespeare along with copious amounts of beer feels authentic, considering how many original attendees at the Globe were wasted on mead in standing room-only sections. LiveArtDC brings theater back to its roots as entertainment for commoners. This is a thrilling idea. The important question is whether it works.
An emblematic example of this immersion happens during Mercutio's (Noelle Viñas) famous Queen Mab speech. Mercutio is gesturing wildly in the midst of the crowd and Romeo (Josh Adams) turns to an audience member right next to the action and says, "I'm sorry, my friend's just really drunk right now." Those asides go a long way towards establishing what kind of boundaries do and don't exist between cast and viewers.
Some of the interactions seem more focused on increasing the profit margins at DC Reynolds—like a flip cup death match each time a character bites the dust, resulting in taking a shot. Hilariously, it also means that the Soundpost (Alex Taphanel), the guitar strummer providing the soundtrack, engages the audience in another rousing round of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel."
Because most people already know how Romeo and Juliet ends, the play works well in the bedlam-filled environment. If you miss a scene to refill your drink or because human traffic prevents you from getting to the new location, so be it. Try to get back on track for the Lady Capulet (Erica Smith) scenes, as Smith plays her with a Southern accent that beguiles in the best way.
Our star-crossed lovers nail their meet-cute and subsequent lust. Romeo as played by Adams is like a seventh-grade crush with a Macklemore haircut. You can see why a curious Juliet (Loren Bray) would be inclined to share some kisses with such a sensitive dude. Juliet displays some great pipes when she sings before her family's big party in an "I Feel Pretty"-esque number.
It gets dicier when the play inevitably turns tragic. The tears in Romeo's eyes as he talks to Friar Lawrence (Christopher Holbert, striking a great tone) about his banishment are impressive, but kinda harsh the audience's drunken mellow. This production turns the logistical machinations that lead to the two of them killing themselves into a raunchy game of Mad Libs. That's all well and good, but it doesn't get the audience ready for the death scene that follows.
R + J: Star-Cross'd Death Match deserves commendations for the way it expands the boundaries of a modern theater experience, even if sometimes that means it's throwing a bunch of belligerence at a wall. A lot of it ends up sticking.
See it if: You've always wanted to scream "Do you flip your cup at me sir?" in an Elizabethan accent during a rowdy drinking game.
Skip it if: You want to sit in one place for the duration of a show and still catch all the action. Not happening here.