Rob Nash Does Romeo and Juliet

Local Arts Reviews

Rob Nash Does Romeo and Juliet: The Power of One

The Vortex,

through January 5

Running Time: 1 hr, 15 min

This show isn't a rollicking laff fest, friends. That's not a problem, actually -- not a problem at all -- but I thought it would be a rollicking laff fest, because I'm previously unfamiliar with Rob Nash's work except for what I've heard on the radio, and what I heard on the radio was a hilarious, multivoiced story that was set in the more guffaw-provoking arena of pure farce. Rob Nash's Holy Cross cast doing Romeo and Juliet is something else again.

Nash, you should know, is one talented man. In most of the shows he's done, the emphasis falls equally on both words: "talented" and "one." Nash brings to life on stage, just by himself, an entire community of diverse people and draws the audience into a world as well fleshed-out as the nascent stages (at least) of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon. Well, there are no Norwegian bachelor farmers here, but there are: students in a Catholic school in Houston, the clergical faculty and staff of that school, and the families and surrounding neighborhoods inhabited by those Holy Crossers. The sexual orientation and escapades of these characters is often touched on, and they fall into four distinct categories: gay, straight, closeted, and confused. The relational, emotional, societal, and other orientations of these folks are even more varied, and what Nash does, unlike Keillor who "merely" tells what's happening, is show us these characters. Eschewing narration, Nash simply changes his voice for each character he evokes; he changes his voice, his posture, his face's posture, and of course the patterns of his speech. Again and again and again.

It's like watching Sybil, for Christ's sake.

This is why I'd expected, from the more farcical bits I'd heard, a laff fest. But seeing Nash in person provides something more subtle and much more impressive. He shifts smoothly from character to character, sometimes instantly, sometimes after a slow turn for shifting's emphasis, and his skill in doing this is obviously beside the point. There's no sense of "Look at me, aren't I talented, portraying all these different folks and professionally entertaining the hell out of you?" There's simply a man alone in a room -- the audience needn't even be there -- and an entire community is speaking through him.

As a bonus, it's a funny community. Again, not forcedly laff fest funny, but funny in the way that a whole disparate group of people, functional or dys- to varying degrees, is naturally funny. Johnny wants Maria and Maria wants Johnny, except when they're fighting, and Chad wants Jennifer (or maybe he really wants Ben), and Norman wants anything female he can get, really, although that's beyond unlikely, and is it Mr. Smith and Marcus, after all, who want (and get) each other? And now they and others are staging the famous story of star-crossed love, and the resonances are a wonder to behold.

We watch Nash performing his characters and we watch those characters performing bits of Romeo and Juliet, and all the different parts come together like a theatrical jigsaw puzzle joining itself on the stage before us, forming a fine drama within a sharp comedy of eros and social dynamics. Nash accomplishes this with nothing but a chair and a bench, the sound design of James Reilly and the lighting wizardry of Jennifer Rogers, and a remarkably strong control of the actor's craft. Why this isn't required viewing for achieving a collegiate degree in Theatre, I don't know.

Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth. All that crowd. They've been covered As Intended enough already; there are sufficient recorded renderings, and the saturation point was reached, I think, decades ago. Shows like this -- or like Paula Vogel's Desdemona and its ilk -- are the best way to pay homage to the power of William Shakespeare's work.

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Rob Nash Does Romeo and Juliet

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