BY SCOTT STIFFLER | HARD SPARKS: “R & J & Z” Talk about love among the ruins. With the Black Death in full swing, a scrappy playwright by the name of William Shakespeare penned “Romeo and Juliet” — in which two kids from warring clans fall hard for each other then promptly drop dead. Not so fast, says Hard Sparks theater company. Their “R & J & Z” adds another act to the tale, a third letter that stands for “Zombie” and a reversal of fortune for the doomed lovers.
“Romeo and Juliet,” notes director Joan Jubett, “begins as a comedy and ends as a tragedy” But their version “begins as a tragedy and ends as a comedy.” Set against the backdrop of Verona’s plague, playwright Melody Bates (who plays Juliet) blends zombie-style dread and gore with the Bard’s knack for finding humanity in our darkest hours. Told in verse with 18 actors, it all unfolds over the course of 24 action-packed, brain-eating, limb-severing, hard-lovin’ hours. Oh, yes, there will be blood!
All shows 8 p.m. In previews April 2. Then, April 3–18, Sat./Sun. and Wed.–Fri. Additional show April 6. At the New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher St. btw. Greenwich &Washington Sts.). For tickets ($18), visit hardsparks.com.
LES SHAKESPEARE Co.’s “TWELFTH NIGHT”
Some random member of the LES Shakespeare Company will be seeing double, during their freewheeling take on “Twelfth Night” — and not just because the plot concerns identical twins. This roving production, which takes place at a bar or a theatre on any given night, is the latest instalment in the troupe’s “F*ckin Up Shakespeare Series.” When one actor is plucked from their clean-and-sober ranks and required to become thoroughly intoxicated right before the show, anything can happen — to the audience, to the cast, to the plot. All the better, we’re assured, to highlight the play’s absurd elements of mistaken identity, secret loves and sober revelations.
It’s not all drunken shenanigans for the Company. Their weakness for courting disaster is nicely balanced by a commitment to make Shakespeare accessible for all ages. To that end, they’re laying off the sauce and making plans to host workshops at schools and provide free shows for the community. Proceeds from this inaugural production of “Twelfth Night” (and the bottle deposits from that one cast member) will fund a June 26–July 24 “dry” run of “Romeo and Juliet,” at the East River Park Amphitheatre.
“Twelfth Night” is performed on Sun., April 12 & 19, at, respectively, Poco (33 Ave. B at Third St.) and Parkside Lounge (317 E. Houston St.). Then, Sun. & Mon., April 26 & 27 at Cakeshop (152 Ludlow St. btw. Stanton & Rivington), May 3 & 4 at Treehouse Theatre (154 W. 29th St. btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves. Avenues) and May 10 & 11 at Lucky Jack’s (129 Orchard St. btw. Rivington & Delancy). Start times: Sun. at 7:30 p.m. & Mon. at 8:30 p.m. Running time: 75 minutes. Tickets are $25 (includes two drinks). Reservations: call 800-838-3006 or visit lesshakespeareco.org.
REBEL THEATER COMPANY PRESENTS “R+J: An Uncivil Tale”
The resident company of Nuyorican Poets Cafe returns to that space with Adam Mace and Kaitlyn Schirard’s Dixie take on “Romeo and Juliet.” Set in 1863 Kentucky, this production casts its Montague clan as former slaves. Sparks (and bullets?) fly when Romeo falls in love with Juliet, daughter of the Confederate Capulet family. The Civil War setting bodes well for Rebel Theater. Past collaborations between Mace and producing artistic director Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj have been masterfully realized and extraordinarily nuanced contemplations on race, class, ambition and achievement (as seen in last year’s Hurricane Katrina-infused “Salome” and Black Panther Party-themed “Othello”). Many of the young and charismatic cast members from those unconventional adaptations will return for “R+J” — making this one a show to see, from a troupe to watch out for.
At 7 p.m. on April 10, 11, 13–19 and 24–26. At Nuyorican Poets Cafe (236 E. Third St. btw. Ave. B & C). Tickets are $20 online, $25 at the door ($15 for students and seniors). For reservations, visit rebeltheater.com.