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Actors Chris Herring (Romeo) and Jordan Ellis (Juliet) in a scene the morning after the star-crossed lovers’ one night together. Actors Grant Watkins and Matt Kenyon sit in the background.

I’m a fan of Shakespeare. Always have been. To an extent, that is. I’ve always found him a bore to read. After all, plays — especially Shakespeare — aren’t meant to be read. They are meant to be performed. And, Three Bone Theatre’s local production of “Shakespeare’s R&J,” Joe Calarco’s acclaimed adaptation of the bard’s classic “Romeo & Juliet,” certainly didn’t disappoint this casual theatre-goer.

The small start-up theatre company opened their local production last weekend, with three more performances slated for tonight, Saturday and Sunday.

Three Bone is producing the play at UpStage, a small performing arts venue NoDa. It and the neighborhood that encapsulates it are the perfect setting for the small production. You work your way through the gritty, artsy streets of NoDa — trains whistling in the background — and you make your way upstairs, where a full bar and dinner awaits before actors take the stage.

The small space and its thrust stage — with the audience surrounding three sides — provided for me a sense of ultimate intimacy, drawing me into the actors’ spaces as they performed.

It’s obvious to me, as I think it will be to any other observer, that the all-male cast — Jordan Ellis as Juliet and Benvolio, Chris Herring as Romeo, Matt Kenyon as Mercutio and the Friar and Grant Watkins as Tybalt and the Nurse — have worked diligently at their craft. It wasn’t long after the play began that I became engrossed into the story. It’s a feat they should cherish.

Each of the actors seemed comfortable with their roles. I certainly didn’t observe any uneasiness on their parts. As the nurse, Watkins brought hilarity and comic relief. Kenyon’s portrayal of the Friar was as serious as I’d expect it should be.

But, it was Ellis and Herring who stole the show for me. Portraying Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, the duo exuded enough intimacy and emotion to make me momentarily forget the play’s true setting — a modern-day, all-boys Catholic school.

That homoeroticism is purposeful — and for a gay viewer like me both meaningful and enjoyable — but it’s certainly not the primary intention of Calarco’s adaptation.

“I didn’t want the play to be a commentary on homophobia or a celebration of homoeroticism,” Calarco once told The Ithaca College Quarterly, a publication at his alma mater. “I don’t even think these students are gay. It’s a story about pure love and passion, which have nothing to do with gender.”

if you go

“Shakespeare’s R&J”
Adaptation by Joe Calarco
Produced by Three Bone Theatre
UpStage Noda,
3306-C N. Davidson St.
Doors, 6 p.m. Show, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $18, with 20% net proceeds benefiting Time Out Youth Center.
Online ticket purchases
Theatre company website

And, it’s true, at least for me. As I watched, the actors’ genders seemed to disappear. Before me I saw only a passionate and intimate couple, a doting nurse, an overbearing mother.

Two other notes of observation:

It struck me as powerfully symbolic that the characters of the Prince and Juliet’s father were both performed as choruses. Three of the actors banded together to recite the characters’ lines. Angry, loud and oppressive figures of authority. Just like the societal mob that pervades culture and directs each of our lives from the moment of our birth.

I’ve seen several other productions or adaptations of “Romeo & Juliet.” Three Bone Theatre’s production of this particular adaptation didn’t suffer from the same set of critical flaws I think most others have. Instead of the dreamy, romantic “Romeo & Juliet” so boring as to put you to sleep, “R&J” is raw, emotional and sensual. Shakespeare’s original comedy, in the first half of the play, shines through. The pure sexual innuendo and bawdiness present in Shakespeare’s original text is brazenly present. Romeo and Juliet’s teen-aged, hormonal coming-of-age story is presented just as honestly and straight-forwardly as it should be.

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, Three Bone Theatre’s production of “Shakespeare’s R&J” will be a real treat. I walked away from my evening at UpStage filled with wonder and deep thought. Days later, I’m still enthralled with the performance and the play’s meanings, interpretations and story.

Three Bone’s artistic directors Carmen Bartlett and Robin Tynes, as well as the production’s actors, should be proud. You’ve certainly won over a new fan.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.