Performance Review: Shakespeare’s R & J theater critic M.B. Case returns from a hiatus with a look at the sophomore effort of Mauckingbird Theatre Company theater critic M.B. Case returns from a hiatus (which took her either to Borneo or to too many afternoons lingering over Bellinis at Rouge, depending on which version of the story you believe) with a look at the sophomore effort of Mauckingbird Theatre Company, Philadelphia’s only theater outfit dedicated to gay-themed productions.

Shakespeare’s R & J by Joe Calarco
Mauckingbird Theatre Company
Directed by Peter Reynolds
Starring Evan Jonigkeit, Conrad Ricamora, Newton Buchanan, Nicholas Park

10 words or less Teenage prep school boys = Not my mother’s Shakespeare

Strengths … Gay or not gay, this is simply good theater. For those thinking they are merely going to see some newfangled adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, à la Romeo & Romeo, they are greatly mistaken. The young actors in this production are asked to carry off no small feat: acting as self-conscious and arrogant teenage boys while simultaneously and convincingly portraying Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio/Friar, and Nurse. And do it they do. Jonigkeit (Celimene in Mauckingbird’s debut production of Moliere’s The Misanthrope) is especially moving as Student 1, aka Romeo, aka every teenager grappling with love and self.

Weaknesses … None. The under- and overcurrents of teenage angst, confusion, self-loathing, and giddiness are deftly played throughout with nary a hiccough or bump along the way.

Verdict … Mauckingbird pulled off what I thought would be impossible: taking (certainly) my least favorite of Shakespeare’s catalog and infusing it with a graceful humor and dogged humanity. Looking forward to their next effort.

Through August 23rd at the Second Stage at the Adrienne. Tickets $15 to $20.