When it comes to Shakespeare, there is none better than the award winning Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. For those who love the work of the Bard, each production is a masterpiece and their current production of “Romeo and Juliet” is just that. Staged by Australian director Gale Edwards with a cast made up of veterans and newcomers, the story of youthful romance explodes on this stage. Prior to the show starting, seeing the unusual set designed by Brian Sidney Bembridge, I mentioned to another patron that if one did not know the play, one might think we were going to see “West Side Story”, but without the music.What we see is a Plaza that may be an alley filled with garage doors and what is used for the balcony scene ( the infamous balcony scene) is in fact a scaffold. Lo and behold, the opening of this production is a “rumble” between the Montagues and the Capulets, introducing us to the feud between the two families. The fight scenes in this production are marvelous and the sword fighting mind-boggling! I often cringe when I see this onstage, in particular with the audience being just feet away in this “thrust theater”,but under the direction of Rick Sordelet, it is almost as if we are watching a ballet- sheer perfection.
The story revolves around Juliet, daughter of Capulet played by Joy Farmer-Clary, who begins as a 14 year old giggly girl and as the story unfolds, becomes a woman. Her love for Romeo, he of the Montague family ( deftly handled by Jeff Lillico) is quite intense and despite their families being at odds with each other, their love blossoms quickly. Edwards has brought her production to a more modern look and although the language is Shakespeare, this timeless production appears new and modern, so that even those who have seen it countless times, never bore or anticipate what happens next. While our young lovers are of course the main characters in this love versus rivalry story, many other characters are integral to the storyline, and the actors who bring them to life shine in their roles: Ora Jones is top-notch as Nurse, the woman who has raised Juliet from infancy and in reality ,her only friend; Ariel Shafir is a strong Mercutio( his sword fighting to the deathscene is worth the price of a ticket alone); the always reliable David Lively takes on the role of Friar Laurence, the padre who marries the young lovers and works to keep them together with a plan that as you all know doesn’t work out ( thus the tragic ending); Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin who is slain by the handof Romeo as revenge for the death of Mercutio is handled with a nice touch by Zach Appelman and the rest of the cast is equal to the task of bringing the quality that we have grown to expect at CST productions.
Productions at CST are always solid with every little detail taken care of- the lighting (John Culbert), the costumes ( Ana Kuzmanic) and the original music and sound ( Lindsay Jones) are the icing on a cake that is perfect. If you have never witnessed a Shakespeare production on Navy Pier, make this a “to do” on your ” bucket list”. You won’t be sorry! Since most of you know “West Side Story” you will see where some of it came from and feel as if you have seen this before.Do not let the language bother you, as it is really not that difficult to “get it”!. Just think about what happens when you walk into a dark room, after awhile your eyes adjust andyou can see what is around you, so when it comes to Shakespeare, just watch the actors and what they are doing and just like that, you will “see the words” and have a glorious experience at the theater.
“Romeo and Juliet” will continue at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier through November 21st with ticket prices ranging from $44-$75. The box office phone number is 312-595-5600 or you can get performance schedule and order tickets at www.chicagoshakes.com
There are some pre-ambles, where scholars condustc 30 minute intro lectures about “Romeo and Juliet” on Saturdays at 2 p.m. September 25th,October 2nd and 9th and November 6th and 13th and on Sundays at 1 p.m. thru October 31st and on Friday, October 22nd at 5 p.m. and Sunday,November 7th at 1 p.m.- these are at no additional charge.
Parking at Navy Pier is discounted ( 40% off) so bring your ticket to the theater and have it validated.