California State University Dominguez Hills’ R+J (2023)

It was always my intent to incorporate theatre and film reviews to Read House Review. While I could go back and begin with my very first film experiences as a child – which are already covered in my original teaching philosophy – or my first theatre experience with UCSB’s She Stoops To Conquer, I decided to launch into reviewing plays with R+J which was a recent production by California State Dominguez Hills’ Theatre and Dance Department. It is a fresh adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. What makes this play extra special? The play was co-directed by one of my former English professors, Kimberly Huth.

The Playbill

Not to put Dr. Huth on full Shakespearean expert blast, but I can see her influence in this play. I’m glad to note that Kelly Herman, the director, and everyone else involved in the play, was able to work with what she and her years of experience with Shakespearean theatre brought to the production. Now that I have well over a decade working with adaptations myself, I know that making Shakespeare accessible to modern audiences is a huge challenge. One of the biggest criticisms that Shakespearean theatre gets is that it’s too bougie. The fact that this play honors the LGBTQ+ community is very apropos because the community takes great pride in transforming the concept of conservative bougie into modern chic, theatrical flamboyance. We should be thanking modern drag queens for this reconstruction of a previously inaccessible heteronormativity.

To see a play like this on a college or university campus is what I consider success. I remember 10-12 years ago working on my English bachelors and feeling like an outsider. The plays that I was exposed to were considered classics, but I always wondered how they could be adapted to draw in new audiences, audiences that were not necessarily British literature nerds, so to speak. How do we re-mix the best of British literature, Latinx culture, and non-heteronormativity? Fast forward to this play. The idea has come full circle. And, not surprisingly, it required an immense amount of interdepartmental collaboration. The next step in this revolution in theatre (and film) is to see it bloom on Broadway and Hollywood. We really can’t let Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton take all the spotlight.

Things about the play that I noticed were particularly outstanding: the music and choreography. Honestly, much like the soundtrack is the icing on a film, the music and choreography make or break a play. I’m not a fan of all types of Latinx music, so the re-mixes were cleverly constructed while not becoming obnoxious. I couldn’t give the same positive review to the Buffalo Wild Wings down the street from CSUDH that played rancheras for nigh 20 minutes straight and gave me a migraine from Hell. The play had some bachata, viejitas or Latin ballads, and some good movidas. The choreography matched: a stellar mix of formal Elizabethan dance and ChaCha moves. The mix was certainly amusing and got a good chuckle out of me. It was a job well done by Marco Carreon.

The Play Zine

Now, to the acting: I thought Romea was going to faint from lack of oxygen. Imelda C. Franco was delivering those lines so fast. A part of me wants to wryly think her speech matches how fast she is to fall in love with Juliet. “Slow down, gurl you talking too fast!” I wanted to whisper to her while she waited on my side of the stage for her next stage scene. “Breathe!” Her pairing with Emma Soltero, Juliet, was well-chosen. I have to say that Emma Soltero gave one of the best monologue performance regarding her love for Romea that I have ever seen in both school adaptations and commercial adaptations, and I’ve seen a lot! Placing the correct emphasis on certain words, voice projection, and pauses need to be just right. Otherwise, with the Shakespearean English, the actors run the risk of not being understood at all.

I’m going to conclude this review with a few final highlights. Like the Director’s Note says, “As our country is increasingly polarized, we should be reminded that love and tolerance can always fall victim to tribalism.” Plays like this really challenge that tribalism. And, they are precious representations of a intercultural vision we should hope to some day achieve. Finally, for further details, articles, and information, check out the play zine. All you have to do is scan the QR code in the picture above. Don’t forget that anyone can make tax deductible contributions to the Theatre and Dance Department if you cannot attend a play!

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