NJ Repertory’s ‘& Juliet’ has world premiere

From left, John FitzGibbon, Jacob A. Ware and Nadia Brown in "& Juliet." (PHOTO: SuzAnne Barabas)
From left, John FitzGibbon, Jacob A. Ware and Nadia Brown in “& Juliet.” (PHOTO: SuzAnne Barabas)

A young, cutting-edge theater director finds himself rebooting his career at a small conservative college in a sylvan setting in the world premiere of “& Juliet” by Robert Caisley at the New Jersey Repertory Theater in Long Branch.

Charlie Vaughn (Jacob A. Ware) is moving boxes of books, theater cards and, of course Yorick’s “skull,” into his office as the new

semester begins. He soon is joined by David Hughes (John FitzGibbon), a theater professor who has taught at the college for 30 years and had expected to move into the corner office with the grand view himself.He assures Charlie over, and over, and over, that he is not jealous — well, maybe a teensy-weensy bit. He insists Charlie take in the marvelous view of the antebellum buildings, over and over and over — which Charlie could care less about.

Hughes is the epitome of a stereotypical performing arts professor.  He wears a grayish? brownish? three-piece suit, bright yellow bowtie, glasses and sports a meticulous beard. Charlie favors skinny jeans, baseball caps worn backward, hoodies and stubble.

This is not an out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new story. Nope. It’s more of an old-age-and-treachery-will-always-beat-youth-and-exuberance tale.

Especially if the play has a catalyst like Annie Rice (Nadia Brown), a senior who is super determined to play Juliet in Charlie’s production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

After three years of working backstage on sets, lights and costumes, and sometimes getting bit parts with few if not no lines, she believes it’s her turn to shine. She’s earned it; she deserves it. She sought coaching for the part from both her high school drama teacher and Professor Hughes. She insists she’s perfect for it, over and over and over again.

But Charlie sees his task as a director is to shake things up. He already has cast a local 14-year-old boy to play Juliet, just like they did during the Elizabethan era when females were forbidden to perform on stage. (There is no reference to an all-male cast, though.)

And Annie lures Charlie lures him to an awkward backstage confrontation.

Charlie is adamant his decision stands and offers Annie the job of assistant director. Yeah, right. Like that’s going to appease an ambitious young woman who, we discover, is not liked by her peers and is popping pills for anxiety? depression? anger? We don’t know. There’s a lot we don’t know in this just-under two-hour play with intermission that feels longer than it is.

Directed by Marc Geller on a phenomenal set designed by Jessica Parks, a turntable that moves easily from the backstage of a theater — with a ghost light — to the cozy office-with-a-view. Jill Nagle’s lighting and Patricia E. Doherty’s costumes are well done.

It’s Caisley, the playwright– also a professor of theatre and head of the dramatic writing program at the University of Idaho — who needs to tighten the script and the repetitive dialogue and help us understand so many unexplained things on a long list. But the biggest conundrum is how Charlie, who is new to the area, found this boy with no acting experience and why he would cast a kid with social issues in a major role in a popular play that marks his debut as a director at a small college in a job he says he was lucky to get and desperate to keep.

Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 4. Tickets are $46 at 732-229-3166. Visit http://www.njrep.org for more information