by Raphael Badagliacca

Casting makes the play.   & Juliet – the newest world premiere from New Jersey Repertory Company – is a play about casting, but we’re never entirely sure who’s playing which part.

Charlie Vaughn (Jacob A. Ware) in his new role as director at a small town, conservative university’s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet has made a casting decision that is at once traditional and highly controversial. In a throwback to Elizabethan times, he has cast a young boy to play the part of Juliet.

Like most casting decisions, it rewards and disappoints in the same motion.  Miffed in this case is Annie Rice (Nadia Brown), a young African-American actress, convinced that her turn has come and that the role belongs to her.  Charlie is welcomed by David Hughes (John FitzGibbon) 30-year veteran professor intensely envious of the upstart director’s appointment, the size of his office, even the view through his windows.

What proceeds is cat and mouse intrigue. The outcasts out-Iago each other in attempts to bewitch, bedazzle and bewilder the new director, displaying some pretty impressive acting in the process, strangling the present with rumors of the past. The question is who will out?  And who’s in?  Who’s directing the action?

Written by Robert Caisley directed by Marc Geller;  scenic designer, Jessica Parks; lighting designer, Jill Nagle; technical director; Brian P. Snyder; sound designer, Merek Royce Press  costume designer, Patricia E. Doherty; production stage manager, Kristin Pfeiffer; properties, Marisa Procopio; artistic director, SuzAnne Barabas; executive producer, Gabe Barabas.

With: Nadia Brown, John FitzGibbon, and Jacob A. Ware.

At NJ Repertory Company (179 Broadway, Long Branch,  NJ — 732-229-3166; through June 4. Thursdays & Fridays 8pm; Saturdays 3pm & 8pm; Sundays at 2pm.