Short Shakespeare! Romeo and Juliet

 

chicaho shakespeare theater
Short Shakespeare- Romeo & Juliet

 Directed and Adapted by Rachel Rockwell

 Produced by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater

 This bite-size adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic is a treat for children and parents alike.

 Romeo and Juliet is an ideal gateway to the world of William Shakespeare for many a young theatergoer, and those wishing to inoculate wee ones early in the wonders of the Bard might do significantly worse than with Chicago Shakespeare’s 75-minute rendition of this much-loved tragedy.

After all, Romeo and Juliet is a young person’s play in that it tells a story of thwarted desire, thus speaking directly to our earliest experiences of what it is to not get what we want—indeed, a valuable lesson for children of all ages. Plus R&J, through the eyes of its star-crossed lovers, gives children an early glimpse of life in the adult world—a world that is violent, painful, and full of ancient hatreds with no clear pretext. So many parents try to instill in their children a notion that “life is not fair” and that oftentimes our most heroic efforts lead to little more than failure and ruin. R&J provides a living exemplum of this most essential of life’s little lessons.

chicago shakespeare theater

Rachel Rockwell’s adaptation is both lean and muscular, condensing the play’s narrative arc while retaining many of its emotional resonances. Still, though such abridgments succeed in piquing young interests in Shakespeare as a first-rate storyteller, they do so often at the expense of Shakespeare’s more prodigious gifts as a poet. Thus much of Romeo and Juliet’s (admittedly indulgent) dramatic lyricism is herein lost. And while young children (and even many parents) will be no more the sadder, one wonders how it is young children are to arrive at an appreciation of the formal beauties of language if they are forever deemed secondary to a good sword fight.

Still, I have a feeling I’m being too much of a purist, for though I may quibble with the medium, I can’t argue with the results. Cursory glances around the darkened theater revealed several excitable young faces in the audience—although not from the really young children, who sat slumped in their chairs. Parents, as a word of warning, might avoid bringing children younger than twelve. And questions raised in a laudable post-show “talk back” evinced a young audience who—even if the thematic elements of the play were somewhat lost on—were nonetheless fascinated by the magic of live theater.

chicago shakespeare theater

And how could they not be? Theresa Ham’s period costumes are sumptuous and intricate, and Matt Hawkins’s beautiful fight choreography is downright awesome. Performances across the board are solid with Jeb Burris’s lively turn as Mercutio being a particular favorite with the young crowd. And as the lovers, Christopher Allen and Laura Rook are especially heartfelt and sincere. Yet occasionally one gets the impression that Rockwell and her cast had certain misgivings about Shakespeare’s more obtuse lyricism. In Act II’s infamous balcony scene, for instance, Allen and Rook are prone to over punctuate their lines, as though striving just a touch too hard to get the message across to younger ears. Its nonetheless a small complaint in an otherwise expressive production.

Thus more seasoned bardolaters might taken a Saturday afternoon off to let Rockwell and Co. remind us of what it is we love about this timeless favorite. Parents, most definitely, should take an opportunity to expose young hearts and minds to this lovely and well-wrought production of Shakespeare’s eternal classic. If perhaps for no other reason than an awesome sword fight.

RECOMMENDED

 Reviewed Saturday, February 23rd, 2013.

 Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes with no intermission.

 Short Shakespeare! Romeo and Juliet runs until March 23rd, 2013. Chicago Shakespeare Theater is located at 800 East Grand Avenue on Navy Pier. Tickets can be obtained through their box office at (312) 595-5600 or at their website (http://www.chicagoshakes.com/) Check out their Theater in Chicago listing at http://www.theatreinchicago.com/short-shakespeare-romeo-and-juliet/6126/.