REVIEW: Romeo and Juliet (Chicago Shakespeare)

 

CST breathes new life into Shakespeare’s tragic lovers

 

 Tybalt (Zach Appelman, left) duels Mercutio (Ariel Shafir) as the Montagues restrain Romeo from interfering.  Photo by Liz Lauren.

   
Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents
   
Romeo and Juliet
   
Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by
Gale Edwards
CST’s Courtyard Theatre at
Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave. (map)
through November 21  |  tickets: $44-$75  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

You know the story: two lovers from feuding houses fall desperately in love and then they die. Gale Edwards’ production of Romeo and Juliet proves that no matter how many times Shakespeare’s plays are performed, they can still be fresh and relevant if the cast has the technique to make the language thrive in a modern audience’s ear. Shakespeare leaves directorial cues all throughout his scripts – in verse structure, Juliet (Joy Farmer-Clary) discovers Romeo (Jeff Lillico) at her balcony. Photo by Liz Lauren. punctuation, and even spelling – and if the actor obeys these, emotion arises naturally. This Romeo and Juliet ensemble fully understands this, delivering the text with outstanding precision that makes the meaning of each word clear even if the vocabulary is unfamiliar.

The play begins in a graffitied, urban alley split down the middle by construction horses, a foreboding setting that quickly explodes with life as the Capulets and Montagues thrust open the garage doors that line the stage to battle each other. Fight director Rick Sordelet is the real star here, choreographing an epic brawl that has the actors dodging multiple rapier attacks while construction horses fly through the air and are swung like swords. The stakes are set high from the very outset and the violence stays intense and believable throughout the production, never letting the tension die.

Under Gale Edwards’ keen directorial eye, the romance between Romeo (Jeff Lillico) and Juliet (Joy Farmer-Clary) blossoms, beginning with their very first moment at the Capulet ball. Brian Sidney Bembridge’s set utilizes the entire length of the thrust stage, creating a hall of immense depth that allows for great moments of tension through the characters’ spatial relationships, and when the two lovers first meet they are separated by distance but their chemistry is immediate. The coy Juliet makes a run for it, and the childlike innocence on display as they chase each other around the hall quickly transforms into lusty romance as first their fingers, then lips, intertwine. The leads expertly capture the dynamic of two hormonally charged teenagers, particularly Farmer-Clary, whose Juliet struggles to hold on to her virtue as she falls deeper for Romeo.

Romeo (Jeff Lillico, right) persuades Friar Laurence (David Lively) to wed him to Juliet. Photo by Liz Lauren. Nurse (Ora Jones, left) tells Juliet (Joy Farmer-Clary) that Romeo has arranged to marry her that very day.
Mercutio (Ariel Shafir, left) is restrained by Romeo (Jeff Lillico) before the Capulet ball.  Photo by Liz Lauren. Romeo (Jeff Lillico) promises his bride Juliet (Joy Farmer-Clary) that his banishment will not keep them apart. Photo by Liz Lauren.

The production doesn’t shy away from the erotic, instead relishing in Shakespeare’s bawdy puns, particularly the overtly sexual Mercutio (Ariel Shafir). Shafir fearlessly tackles the plethora of double entendres he is handed, often going to grotesque extremes that are hilarious but inappropriate for print. These lead to some especially humorous moments when he encounters the Nurse (Ora Jones), who is completely unprepared for the barrage of insults he hurls her way, with most of them of a decidedly erotic nature. Jones’ brilliant portrayal of the Nurse is one of the play’s highlights, showing the motherly affection that Lady Capulet (Judy Blue) lacks while still being a safe, friendly presence in Juliet’s life. Whether teasing, comforting, or advising, it is easy to see why the Nurse is Juliet’s closest confidant, and Jones’ exaggerated mannerisms (and one completely over-the-top dress) make her a comedic goldmine throughout the production.

The posters for Romeo and Juliet ask, “How long will it take for you to fall in love with Shakespeare?” Judging from the quality of Gale Edwards’ fast-paced, emotionally-rich production, it should take no time at all.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

In the House of Capulet, Lord Capulet (John Judd, center) and Lady Capulet (Judy Blue, second from left) prepare to receive guests. Photo by Liz Lauren.

 

Pictures from the first rehearsal of Chicago Shakes’

Romeo and Juliet:

 

One Response

  1. I second each of those comments! The players brought the meaning and feeling to what would otherwise be just words.

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