‘Shakespeare’s R&J’ combines gay prep school boys with the Bard at Fabrefaction

Rather appropriately timed to open around Valentine’s Day weekend, Fabrefaction Theatre Conservatory has just bowed its new version of “Shakespeare’s R&J,” in which prep school boys play all the parts of the Bard’s romantic tragedy “Romeo and Juliet”– and get caught up in all the emotions. The production has a gay director and a gay actor in its cast.

Trying to find something different than conjuring verbs and dealing with their normal day-to-day ennui, four schoolage students come across a forbidden copy of William Shakespeare’s classic work. One starts reading it and before long they are acting it out, with the young men taking on the characters, male and female. Soon, however, what is happening in the text begins to parallel what the boys are actually going through.

Brian Clowdus, the artistic director of Serenbe Playhouse, is directing the show while Chase Steven Anderson is one of the four cast members. Both are gay. Anderson plays the character of Student Four, who brings the characters of the nurse, Tybalt and more to life. According to Anderson, when the four students find the book, they feel compelled to proceed. “They need to do this or they might go crazy,” he says. Yet it takes them on paths they’ve never been on. They are initially uncomfortable with some of the content, but “they don’t want to sacrifice the integrity,” says Anderson. It’s a hormonal thing too. “They are all horny, living in close quarters at school,” he says. None of them are gay but all four are virgins and none of the boys has ever been in love.

Performing the text brings them closer and makes them question what they’ve previously thought. “The love they feel for each other is more important than what they’ve been taught,” Anderson says.

A time period is not ascribed to the production. Anderson says it could be any time, from the ‘50s to present day.

After Clowdus saw Anderson in “Urinetown” he asked him to audition for this. Anderson was obviously familiar with “Romeo and Juliet” but not this play beforehand. “(Once I read it) I realized what a poignant and profound piece this is; it’s fantastic,” he says.

After the Georgia native graduated from Columbus State University, he moved to Los Angeles for a few months to get a sense of what that market was like. He is happily back in Atlanta now, which he says is a booming place for creative types. He has been seen in the movie “Ride Along” as well as the series “One Tree Hill” and some commercials.

“Shakespeare’s R&J” was produced by Serenbe Playhouse, ironically, as part of the company’s inaugural season in 2010. This is the first staging of the piece since it was reworked by gay playwright Joe Calarco last year at Signature Theatre in D.C.

They had been talking for the past three years, but Clowdus officially met Calarco when he directed the playwright’s “Walter Cronkite is Dead” at Aurora Theatre last year and the playwright came down as part of the run. Calarco had just finished the remounted version and the new script wasn’t even published yet. He agreed to let Clowdus and Fabrefaction get their hands on the new version, however. According to Clowdus, the changes are subtle, but timely, most notably in the ending.

“When Joe was asked to direct and adapt the show again 10 years after he first did it, he wanted to make it more current,” he says. “We are in a different time now. There is more of a sense of hope.”

It’s left to the viewer to determine how the action affects the four young men and their future. “One of the four is definitely impacted,” says Clowdus.
Like Anderson, he agrees that the show has its share of homoerotic moments as well as an important message.

“Shakespeare’s R& J”
Fabrefaction Theatre Conservatory
999 Brady Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30318
February 13 – March 2