ROMEO & JULIUS, Bailiwick Repertory. The classic tale of secretly wed lovers whose passion defies family and society would seem an intriguing source for gay theater in a time of controversy over same-sex marriage. But this all-male version of Romeo and Juliet, adapted by Michael Halberstam and staged by Kerry B. Riffle, misses the point, ignoring the gay community's real-life enemies--street punks and right-wing politicians. The title characters are destroyed instead by rival queer cliques in the "gay ghetto" of what the program redundantly calls "a large metropolitan city." The factions are distinguished by dueling dress codes--sport coats and sweaters versus T-shirts and loud prints--and Shakespeare's bloody violence is transformed into a silly switchblade fight that recalls the old Forbidden Broadway sketch about nellie chorus boys trying to butch it up in West Side Story. The ludicrous conceit--a lavender rumble at Halsted and Roscoe?--both trivializes the genuine threat of gay bashing and mutes the original text's tragic power.
Some competent if unexceptional performances almost redeem the project. Lanky Joseph M. Wycoff brings a sonorous baritone and understated sincerity to Romeo's soliloquies, though he never strikes any sexual sparks with Michael Reyes's muscular, girlishly flouncy Julius. Page Hearn's fussy Nurse and Jay Aubrey's regal drag queen of a Lady Capulet are effective, as is David Warren's high-strung Mercutio.
Ironically this production muddies Shakespeare's homosexual subtext: the resonance of Mercutio's love for Romeo, mocked by the Capulets as a prelude to murder, barely survives in this gimmicky, half-baked reworking.