REVIEW: The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (Two Pence)

A mixed bag at Two Pence Shakespeare

 

2Pence # 6

   
Two Pence Shakespeare present
 
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
 
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tom Wells
at
Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main St., Evanston (map)
through August 21  | 
tickets: $9-$20   |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The publicity materials for The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet led me to believe that this adaptation was to show the after-effects of war, and how society deals with returning veterans. Such an interpretation of possibly the Bard’s most renowned  work held, for me, remarkable potential – but I saw very little effort to portray a post war mentality. The conflict in most of Shakespeare is universal. There are and will be rivalries and feuds for as long as there is humanity. The civil unrest in Romeo and Juliet comes off here more as a feud or an unfortunate gang war.

2Pence # 3 In spite of this, It is the actors that make this production spellbinding and fun, despite the tragic outcome. Taking place in a converted train station, the sounds of the Metra pulling in add to the production’s nostalgic setting between the wars.

The tussling between the Capulet and Montague fractions is convincingly vicious and bloody. Daniel McEvilly is absolutely stunning as Mercutio. Some would argue that Mercutio is the most compelling character and McEvilly makes the case in this production. He stalks the stage with a feral presence that gives a razor sharp edge to the gang unrest. The words of Shakespeare sound mellifluent and stabbing all at once. Mr. McEvilly’s Mercutio is profane and fierce; one feels more sadness when he meets his tragic end than at the conclusion of the play when the titled lovers lay dead.

Austin Campion portrays a gentle Romeo with grace and a light touch. Mr. Campion begins tentatively, but then we have to remember that Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet’s characters as youths on the brink of adulthood. This Romeo fights with his buddies against the Montague’s and speaks lustily of girls, but Campion successfully portrays the longing soul beneath the veneer of bravado.

Christa Sablic (Juliet) brings joy and a wonderful colt-like energy to her role. Juliet has been played as a mooning petulant girl for literally 400+ years. Ms. Sablic portrays her as a teenager who falls in love. It’s been a while since I was a teenager but I do remember how ‘he’ was all consuming and all about which I thought. Ms. Sablic plays Juliet as a sensuous young woman who is ripening under the spell of love and, yes, lust.

Another standout in this production is Sherry Legare as Nurse. Ms. Legare adds a compelling comic touch to her role as Juliet’s guardian and conspirator. She takes on the visage of a toddling old nanny with all but the rolled up stockings, seemingly paying homage to Carol Burnett, but with a more muted slapstick take.

2Pence # 5Charles Cowen as Juliet’s parent-approved suitor is something out of a 1930’s film drama. His portrayal of all a parent wants for a daughter to marry is spot on. Cowen has a royal posture and perfects the arrogant sneer that one has come to love in the character, versus the tragic hero story.

The rest of the cast performs quite ably, but the rhythm noticeably changes in the speaking scenes with Lady Capulet and Juliet. KC Karen Hill plays Lady Capulet, and she comes off as miscast. Ms. Hill is a beautiful actress, but she projects a speedy energy that is out of sync with the story and the rest of the cast. Part of this is costume and makeup/hair choices – the production’s setting is between the wars that took place in the earlier 20th century and Ms. Hill is costumed and coiffed for the post punk 90’s.

Andy Baldeschwiler is appropriately stern as Lord Capulet, possessing a very dignified presence and a most traditional Shakespearean-sounding voice. Additionally, Eliza Hofman is fun to watch in two dual male roles. She has excellent comic timing and exudes a nice gangster aura in spite of being quite pretty.

Any adaptation of Shakespeare runs the risk of seeming pompous and out of touch with the times. It is classic theatre, and taught in almost every school as a reading assignment. Getting the rhythm of Shakespeare and having the ability to translate it into universal understanding is what is difficult for a lot of people. Two Pence’s aspirations for creating a post war ambiance falls a little flat and perhaps should have been more conventional with the era costuming and props.

Given the production’s material and groovy performance space, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is an enjoyable evening of classic theatre.

   
       
Rating: ★★½
   
   
2Pence # 1 2Pence # 2

NOTE: For this production, Two Pence has collaborated with the Vet Art Project, and some production proceeds will be donated to the organization. The show is performed at the Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main Street. This is a cool space in the Metra station and accessible by CTA, Pace and of course Metra. Check out www.twopenceshakespeare.org for tickets and information about the Vet Art Project. The play runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm through August 21st 2010.

      
       

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REVIEW: J.B. (Chicago Fusion Theatre)

The Agony of Job for the (Post)Modern Human

 Zuss and Nickles

 
Chicago Fusion Theatre presents:
 
J.B.
 
by Archibald MacLeish
directed by
Emma Peterson
at
Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway (map)
through April 18th (more info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

There is any number of reasons why theater companies, particularly young ones, would shy away from Archibald MacLeish’s Pulitzer Prize winning play J.B., produced by Chicago Fusion Theatre on Oracle Theatre’s stage. As a modern retelling of the Book of Job, the play easily becomes too much of a muchness. Too much loss . . . too much pain . . . too many unsatisfactory answers only begging the question “Why?” But then, consider the late 1950s, in which MacLeish wrote J.B., and the play’s Nickles, J.B. and Sarahhyperboles of pain and suffering are all too appropriate. In fact, compared to the ugly realities of that time they’re not even hyperbole.

A Frenchman once said, of the horrors of the French Revolution, that it had “destroyed all hyperbole.” The terror of the French Revolution could be multiplied exponentially with regard to World War II and its aftermaths. Look at the numbers alone: the deadliest conflict in recorded human history with 50-70 million dead. Tack onto that deaths resulting from the refugee crisis after the war due to the expulsion of 3 million Germans from Eastern Europe – the received retribution for Nazi atrocities whether they had supported the Third Reich or not.

Consider 6 million Jews dying in the Holocaust; then imagine the survivors of those death camps not being able to return to their original homes—compelled to face starvation and disease in overrun refugee camps. Recall that anti-Jewish pogroms took place in Poland, Lithuania, Romania, and Hungary both during and after the war.

Or consider the campaigns of wholesale rape of women and girls carried out by the advancing Red Army, “liberating” Eastern Europe from Nazi rule.

Consider the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; then check out the testimony of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived both bombings. It reads like every zombie-horror-sci-fi nightmare rolled into one. Other survivors of the atomic blasts were reduced to “ant-walking alligators,” men and women who

“ . . . were now eyeless and faceless—with their heads transformed into blackened alligator hides displaying red holes, indicating mouths . . . The alligator people did not scream. Their mouths could not form the sounds. The noise they made was worse than screaming. They uttered a continuous murmur—like locusts on a midsummer night. One man, staggering on charred stumps of legs, was carrying a baby upside down.”

A charnel house, a charnel house—but do I belabor the point? Does Archibald MacLeish belabor the point in J.B.? Does the hero Job/J.B. belabor the point? Or, to recall Alfred Hitchcock, is there only so much reality that anyone can stand? Does religion or philosophy or science—or theater—help? Does bringing an audience within an approximate distance of trauma or horror, accompanied by its lurking associate, meaninglessness, really help a people face real world traumas, horror, or senseless suffering?

Mr. Zuss and Nickles Mr. Zuss, J.B. and Sarah

But wait, there’s more. One thing this production’s entire cast conveys to perfection is the deep cynicism of MacLeish’s play. That cynicism was born, not only of atrocity piled on atrocity, but also all the paranoia and hypocrisy of the McCarthy Era. That adds another toasty layer to the proceedings.

Who can argue with cynical Mr. Nickles (Virginia Marie), a circus performer who plays the Devil–aka ha-satan–opposite Zuss (Sandy Elias) the calm, sensible believer in the human spirit who takes on the role of God? Their dispute over their respective roles, as well as J.B.’s progress, lends choral and deconstructive depth to MacLeish’s play. We can thank our lucky stars for such solidly paired actors to guide the audience through this story. Why, in their hands, God and the Devil are like two competing superpowers, carrying out their proxy war on the territory of J.B.’s life.

J.B. (Jason Economus) and his wife Sarah (Natalie DiCristofano) form the show’s other solid pair. Economus excellently conveys J.B.’s unpretentious good-guy vitality through MacLeish’s heightened language. The speed bumps show up, though, when he has to switch from MacLeish’s language to lines pulled directly from the Bible. I myself have issues with MacLeish’s language—Pulitzer Prize or not. Sometimes the simple, clean power of lines from the Book of Job put his dialogue to shame.

J.B. Image But, without belaboring that issue, it’s quite clear that MacLeish knows his Job–yet another reason why J.B. won’t entertain everyone. Any audience might do well to read up on Job themselves, the more commentary the better. J.B. is a talkie, talkie, talkie play. When three wise men (Austin Campion, Josh Blankenship, and Alex C. Moore) visit the ruined and abandoned J.B., they almost overwhelm him—and us–with bankrupt philosophical dialectic. Still, there is salvation in all this verbiage. As Sarah, DiCristofano humanistically depicts a mother’s ruthless conviction over the deaths of her children, opposing God Himself as much as J.B.’s God-talk. Yet, in their reunion at the end, her performance reveals depths of redemptive grace.

Emma Peterson’s direction creates the circus atmosphere that frames and informs this play’s storytelling, deftly sustaining its controlled chaos. In fact, the dance movement that builds to J.B.’s encounter with the Almighty compels recollection of lines from the Bhagavad-Gita—the same ones that popped into J. Robert Oppenheimer’s head during the first test of the atomic bomb: “Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.” That scene alone is worth the price of admission.

Oscar Wilde once said, “The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.” Well, Chicago Fusion Theatre Company has educated me. Indeed, they have schooled me and wowed me with their production of this long forgotten masterpiece. By celebrating their achievement, I celebrate a city in which a small theater company will take a chance on a difficult play like this and boldly, fully, humanely realize it.

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

Nickles, J.B. and Sarah 

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