By William Shakespeare
Directed by Gale Edwards
At Chicago Shakespeare
Tybalt and Mercutio more charismatic than Romeo and Juliet
An invitation arrives in the mail. It’s from the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The play? Romeo and Juliet.
To go or not to go? That is the question.
Other questions swiftly follow: How many R&J’s can one see? How many times can a reviewer (and an audience) respond to the tragic ending? Is it possible to become sated?
Last year, I coordinated an R&J seminar for Oakton Community College where we saw diverse film interpretations directed by George Cukor, Baz Luhrman and Frances Zeffirelli. Is enough enough?
No! This production should not be missed.
This 2010 CST production of the tragedy is fresh, and vibrant, and Australian director Gale Edwards offers a unique focus.
From the moment the play opens—in the famous altercation scene between members of the feuding Montague and Capulet families, we know we are in for something different. We are on a dark, empty city street, bisected by four wooden barriers with their flashing red warning lights – props that easily break into weapons when the opposing tough guys accelerate from insults to action.
The fight choreography is terrific. Kudos to fight director Rick Sordelet. Battles become even more vivid later in the play when Mercutio (Ariel Shafir) and Tybalt (Zach Appelman) — followed by Romeo (Jeff Lillico) and Tybalt — fight to the death. Here the combatants drop their swords and slug it out with their fists in an amazingly effective transition.
In fact, in this production, Shafir and Appelman nearly steal the show – so vivid are their portrayals of the Mercutio and Tybalt — two strong, highly verbal characters. Their conflict is more compelling that that revealed by the two lovers. Lillico, as Romeo and Jo Farmer-Clary, as Juliet, are more subdued – and it may well be because director Edwards intends to subordinate them – bringing the sub plots into the fore – family hatreds and the tragic intergenerational results.
Edwards has stated that while the play is a lyrical love affair, it’s also about generations. “The parent generation fails the lovers at every turn . . . .” Her stated goal was to “make the play feel athletic and muscular, “and she achieves this with emphasis on the energetic, bantering, sensual young males from both households. With this change in emphasis, the famous balcony scene becomes almost secondary. And it is rather a pleasure not to be hammered by the familiar lines.
Kudos to scenic designer Brian Sidney Bembridge who has created a bleak urban street flanked by buildings whose entrances are noisy, metal roller doors which clatter with shattering sounds that punctuate key moments. Praise must also go to costume designer Ana Kuzmanic and her clever repetition of shades of brown and scarlet in various combinations – adding a treat for the eye as well as the expected treat for the ear provided by Shakespeare’s famous lines.
This is a very powerful production – and it got a powerful response when the audience arose for a standing ovation on opening night.
At the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 East Grand Ave., www.chicagoshakes.com, 312-595-5600, tickets $44-$75, runs Wednesdays through Fridays 7:30 p.m. , Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 and 6 p.m. Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes with a 15 minute intermission, through Nov 21.
Editor’s Note: While I enjoyed the quick pace and the stage combat and the excellent performances from John Judd (Capulet), David Lively (Friar Laurence), Ora Jones (Nurse), Judy Blue (Lady Capulet) and Steve Haggard (Benvolio),I was perplexed with the new out-of-towners cast in the leads: Jeff Lillico as Romeo and Joy Framer-Clary as Juliet. Both have that teenage look but both seem to lack that spark that is need for use to buy that love at first sight premise. Both seem to not have the strong voices needed to command the stage. Lillico constantly look upward as if to be playing to the heavens while Farmer-Clary’s constant vocal inflections never varied. If your going to cast from outside Chicago, you’d best find quite strong knockout players. These two did yeomen work and they gave it all they had but it wasn’t enough. The supporting cast was much stronger. That saved the show for me.