The ACT Theater has brought Romeo and Juliet to invigorating life in a deaf-accessible interpretation. The play, directed by John Langs, is an expressive, fast-paced-but-faithful adaptation of Shakespeare’s iconic tragedy.
This adaptation of the play combines the language of Shakespeare with sign language, taking its cues from deaf star Joshua M. Castille. If there is one element to recommend ACT’s interpretation by, it’s Castille. The actor channels the motion of sign language into an evocative dance. Romeo has seldom felt more impassioned, more anguished, than he does in Castille’s hands. Of course, the adaptation is actively working to be deaf-accessible, which is commendable, but that focus also works incredibly well as an aesthetic choice. Surely a teenager burning to express a discouraged love must feel unheard, and Castille’s performance and deafness empower that feeling.
The rest of the cast maintains its Romeo’s energy nicely. Gabriella O’Fallon especially imbues her Juliet with an acute sense of childish naivete, heightening the well-worn tragic finale to the point of legitimate feeling. Romeo and Juliet is told and retold so often that it takes a strong production to emotionally affect. ACT’s leads more than guide the production there. Howie Seago’s Friar Lawrence, also deaf, shines with an intense, immediate patriarchal warmth.
The set design by G.W. Mercier emphasizes the maximalism of ACT’s adaptation. Three large fences often take up the stage, spinning and reorganized with each major beat of the story to foreground familial as well as material division. The effect is obvious, certainly, but watching the cast fight-dance with or shimmy up the chain-links is impressively, uniquely theatrical. This is a full adaptation, running about three hours with intermission, and having the dexterous fences present introduces a fun, easy to track visual to the wordy play.
Nimbly choreographed and thoughtfully adapted, the ACT’s Romeo and Juliet is a remarkably emotive rendition of an old standard.
Romeo and Juliet is currently running at ACT. For tickets and more information, visit https://order.acttheatre.org/romeo-juliet.