James Davis as Juliet
(© Scott Suchman)
James Davis as Juliet
(© Scott Suchman)
When William Shakespeare first produced his plays, they were performed exclusively by male actors. Yet, for various reasons, many theatergoers cringe at that particular notion today. "When I first told my mom I was thinking about doing this she said, 'oh, please don't!'" recalls David Muse, director of the new all-male production of Romeo and Juliet at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C. "Thankfully, the convention that only men can be actors is no longer part of our vocabulary; to us, it is something strange. In a way, I think that sense of unfamiliarity is the thing that makes this so exciting."

Working on this production has allowed Muse to see things in the play that he had not noticed before. "There's a moment when Juliet calls Romeo 'husband,' then she calls him 'lover,' and in the end she calls him 'friend.' In Shakespearean adjectives, the last in the list is always the most important," he says. "There's something about the friendship between those two characters that when it's played by two young men, it's not just about the romance and love; there's this sort of camaraderie that is almost like a 'buddyness' that just comes out naturally."

Along with all of the female characters being played by male actors -- many in multiple roles -- the play is performed in a non-naturalistic set suggestive of an Italian crypt/wine cellar. "We are doing a production that lays bare the artifice and theatricality of this event," says Muse. "We have some tricks up our sleeve that let us be imaginative as the audience is being asked to make this leap with us. For this play to work, it has to not just be interesting and new and fresh. By the time you reach the end, it needs to rip your heart out."