Friday October 20th 2017

Short Shakespeare!”Romeo and Juliet”

romeo1 Many adult theater patrons have a difficult time dealing with the language of Shakespeare’s works. Part of the problem is the lack of exposure to the wonderful stories that he gave us. Since Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier began doing their Short Shakespeare productions, our younger generation has been taught how to appreciate these works. I applaud them for bring these classics to our youth and at the same time exposing ( or re-exposing) parents and grandchildren to the classics. The Short Shakespeare program takes a classic, in this case, “Romeo and Juliet” and adapts it to a 75 minute play ( no intermission). They begin by having an actor come onstage and explain that the actors use the aisles and to be wary of this. They then proceed to state that getting used to the words of the Bard is sort of like getting to hear a new form of music and that one will, after a brief amount of time adapt. In the early days, they used the entering a dark room and adjusting after a period of time. The important part of “getting it” is that audience members watch the action that goes along with the words, and yes, it will then make sense. They will get it!

In the new version on stage at Navy Pier now, adapted by and directed by the brilliant mind of Rachel Rockwell, we are treated to one of the greatest love stories ever told. The story takes place in Verona where two of the leading families have feuded for many years. The very start of the play is a well choreographed sword fight scene between these families- the Capulet family ( Juliet’s family) and the Montague family ( Romeo’s family). They are warned that should another fight take place, they will answer to the law. The Capulet family is hosting a party where Juliet’s betrothed will be honored and Romeo and his friends decide to crash the party as it is a masked ball, who will know? There Romeo ( a strong performance by Christopher Allen ) meets Juliet ( marvelously interpreted by Laura Rook) and the two immediately fall in love. It is a first love that has no where to go as they are members of families that cannot co-exist. Romeo and Juliet ( both teens) do get secretly married. Later, she goes back to her home and on the streets Romeo is confronted by the young members of the families engage in battle where Mercutio (deftly handled by Jeb Burris), a Montague, is slain and Romeo takes the life of his slayer, Tybalt(Samuel Ashdown). The Capulet’s demand Romeo’s death, but the Prince (Kamal Angelo Bolden) instead orders his banishment.

Juliet, rather than wed Paris ( also played by Bolden) plots to take a drug that will make it appear that she is dead, after the wedding is called off, she will awake and leave Verona to meet with Romeo, who is banished. Romeo, hearing of her death ( not knowing of the plot) goes to her crypt, poison in hand, so that he can spend eternity with the woman he loves. He takes the poison and as he lays in her arms, she awakes from her drug. When she finds that he has killed himself, she takes a knife and kills herself. This tragic end, causes each of the family leaders to feel the blame and thus end the feud, forever. As the two heads of households vow to end the feuding and killing forever, they realize that the cost to each family has been the greatest of their treasures. That is the lesson to be learned in this, the greatest of love stories.romeo2

I have seen many productions of “Romeo and Juliet” over my years of attending theater, even a previous Short Shakespeare! production, but this one was far and away one of the slickest productions I have ever witnessed. It has many moments that are delightful to watch and due to my grand-kids being unable to attend, I felt the need to speak with a youngster to get their feeling. Mellisa, who sat in the row in front of me, has never been to a live theatrical production and had no idea of what the actual play was going to be. She is 8 years of age and her eyes were glued to the stage at all times. She did say that it reminder her of “West Side Story” where the Americans and Puerto Ricans were enemies and that they fell in love but could not be together. I explained to her that the musical was based on this classic and she smiled. After the 75 minute production, the actors remain onstage and the house lights come up so that the kids get an opportunity to ask questions, not only about the play, but about the process and if “they really kiss” and “stuff like that”. So be prepared to stay a little longer for the total picture of what CST brings to our City of Chicago.

Since this productions shares the stage where “Julius Caesar” is also playing, the set is simple ( Scott Davis) but very practical, and as always, Rockwell brings her magic to us by keeping the focus on the story and action instead of glitzyness. Greg Hoffman’s lights, Theresa Hamm’s glorious costumes, James Savage’s sound ( with some original music by Ethan Deppe) and the fantastic wigs by Melissa Veal are the other ingredients in the recipe for a wonderful theatrical experience for young and old. The fight choreography by Matt Hawkins is very realistic causing Mellisa to say she “was scared that someone would get hurt”. No one knows why these two families hated each other, but as the story unfolds, what it teaches youngsters ( and perhaps a few elders) that the choices we make in our lives will lead us in a path that may not have been the one we wanted to take.

This “must see” production will continue at Chicago Shakespeare Theater located at Navy Pier through March 23rd with a performance schedule as follows:

Saturdays at 11 a.m.  Tickets are from $16-$20 ( a bit more than a movie, for LIVE entertainment) and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 312-595-5600 or online at www.chicagoshakes.com.

On March 23rd, the performance will be  sign interpreted for the hearing impaired audience.

To learn what others say, visit www.theatreinchicago.com , go to Review Round-up and click on “Romeo and Juliet”

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