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.

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Chicago Shakespeare announces 2010-2011 Season

Chicago Shakespeare - Taming of Shrew Taming of the Shrew, performed in the Courtyard Theater through June 2010

 

Chicago Shakespeare Theater announces their

 
2010-2011 Season

 

As Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) finishes the run of its acclaimed world-premiere family musical The Emperor’s New Clothes (our review ★★★½) this month, it looks forward to the season ahead. Further information for all of the productions listed below is available on the Theater’s website at www.chicagoshakes.com or by calling the CST Box Office at 312.595.5600.

 

Mainstage Shows

 

September 15–November 21

   
   
  Romeo and Juliet
  By William Shakespeare 
Directed by
Gale Edwards
In the
Courtyard Theater
   
  Opening the 2010/11 Subscription Series, world-renowned Australian director Gale Edwards stages William Shakespeare’s iconic romantic tragedy in her CST debut. Edwards, whose work has been seen at the Royal Shakespeare Company and in theaters across America, has assembled a talented ensemble including Canada’s Dora Award winner Jeff Lillico and Joy Farmer-Clary in the title roles. CST veterans returning for Edwards’ production include: Ora Jones, last seen in Twelfth Night (our review ★★★½), as Nurse; Brendan Marshall-Rashid, who delivered Richmond’s memorable final soliloquy in Richard III (our review ★★★★), as Paris; Judy Blue as Lady Capulet; Steve Haggard as Benvolio; and David Lively as Friar Laurence, who previously played King Henry IV in CST’s Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, marking the Theater’s debut at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2006. An award-winning creative team joins Edwards for this landmark production, including Scenic Designer Brian Sidney Bembridge, Costume Designer Ana Kuzmanic, Lighting Designer John Culbert, Original Music and Sound Designer Lindsay Jones, Wig and Makeup Designer Melissa Veal, Properties Master Chelsea Meyers, Fight Director Rick Sordelet and Verse Coach Barbara Robertson.
   
Jeff Lillico and Joy Farmer-Clary will play the title roles in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Romeo and Juliet from September 15–November 21, 2010.  Photo by Peter Bosy.Jeff Lillico and Joy Farmer-Clary will play the title roles in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Romeo and Juliet from September 15–November 21, 2010.  Photo by Peter Bosy.

 

 

January 5 – March 6, 2011

   
   
  As You Like It
  By William Shakespeare 
Directed by
Gary Griffin 
In the
Courtyard Theater
   
  CST Associate Artistic Director Gary Griffin directs Shakespeare’s beloved pastoral comedy set in the magical Forest of Arden. This season marks Griffin’s ten-year anniversary with CST, an illustrious history that includes his acclaimed CST Olivier and Jeff Award-winning Sondheim musicals and productions of Private Lives (review ★★★) and Amadeus.
   
   

 

April 13 – June 12, 2011

   
   
  The Madness of George III
  By Alan Bennett
Directed by Penny Metropolus
In the Courtyard Theater
   
  The three-play Subscription Series concludes with The Madness of George III by Olivier and Tony Award-winning playwright Alan Bennett (The History Boys). This masterpiece of royal intrigue about a monarch’s slide into insanity will be directed by Penny Metropolus, whose work has been seen for nearly two decades at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The production marks Metropolus’ return to CST, where she staged The Two Gentlemen of Verona in 2000.
   
   

World’s Stage  and   CST Family

Below the Fold:  World’s Stage productions from Scotland and Ireland, and a CST export to Australia. Additional CST Family programming includes an abridged Shakespeare production and family concerts.

 

Chicago Shakes - Black Watch 2 Chicago Shakes - Cripple of Inishmaan 1
Chicago Shakes - Funk it Up 1 Chicago Shakes - Black Watch 4

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REVIEW: Steppenwolf’s “American Buffalo”

Steppenwolf displays Mamet mastery

 AmericanBuffalo-3 

Steppenwolf Theatre presents:

American Buffalo

by David Mamet
directed by Amy Morton
thru February 7th (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

No one would ever accuse David Mamet of being a feminist. Yet Amy Morton’s direction of American Buffalo, now onstage at Steppenwolf, so skillfully teases out the masculine value systems that both inspire and defeat the play’s characters, one might easily conceive of it as a dyed-in-the-wool feminist tract. Assistant Director Jamie Abelson, in an after-performance discussion, revealed how Morton engaged in a bit of Meisner technique during rehearsal and threw out the infamous pauses and italicized words originally written into the script—so that the cast could find organic rhythms with the words alone.

Mamet’s language and its rhythms can be the bugbear of any production. But thankfully, with this well-balanced cast, each actor displays sure and deliberate internal mastery, never resorting to stereotypical staccato delivery that sometimes plagues Mamet performances. Instead, each interchange between actors is smoother, seemingly more effortless, neither delayed in pacing nor rushed in feeling. The action proceeds with quieter, subtler intensity—each incidental phrase or action naturally contributing to the play’s crescendo.

Organic is the quintessence of Morton’s direction but do not read from that any concept of a kinder, gentler American Buffalo. If anything, from design to performance, Steppenwolf’s production is a sterling model of good, old-fashioned hardcore Realism.

AmericanBuffalo-1Three down-and-out men, Don (Francis Guinan), Teach (Tracy Letts), and Bobby (Patrick Andrews), conspire in a basement junkshop to steal a recent customer’s coin collection. The customer had found a Buffalo nickel among the detritus of Don’s shop and bought it off of him. For perceiving its value, right out from under his nose, Don feels “taken” and diminished. Robbing the mysterious customer is only fair payback, in which both Bobby and Teach, each for their own reasons, want to play a pivotal role.

These are characters that could have just as easily stepped out of a 19th century novel as this 1970s play. The audience can neither escape from their seedy, depressed reality nor from the worlds they weave with the language they have at their disposal. Language–and the masculine values they have about loyalty, toughness, and cunning–proves to be both their doing and undoing. With the exception of a few moments, this American Buffalo delivers a taut, energetic, densely layered, and finely realized work.

The cast has earned all the accolades that can be heaped upon them, but it’s Tracy Letts’ performance as Teach that brings the fireworks. From the moment he first tromps down the junkshop’s steps in a wide, cumbersome stride, Letts immaculately controls his role, pulling humor naturally and fluently from it, reaching powerfully into the depths of Teach’s desperation. He can turn on a dime according to Teach’s shifting moods. From cock-sure complaint over the cheating that goes on at Don’s poker table to garrulous lecturing on how to pull the most professional heist, from jealousy to creeping paranoia to unleashed rage, Letts hits all the marks in one seamless pyrotechnic performance.

All of which would be for nothing if not flanked by the terse, fierce energy of Andrew’s Bobby or the quieter bulldog toughness of Guinan’s Don. I’m especially grateful for Andrew’s (and Morton’s) complete commitment to realism regarding Bobby. As the young, slow drug addict Don has taken under his wing, realistically grounding Bobby’s character, without pity or sentimentality, lends a sharper, more authentic edge to the cruel world inhabited by these characters. There is something especially refreshing about Realism in an era of “truthiness” and I appreciate the opportunity to see it done full-bore and without compromise.

Compared to other productions, Francis Guinan’s interpretation of Donny may be the biggest surprise. His Don would rather talk softly and carry a big stick—or talk softly and carry a big pig slaughtering thingy. But for all the discussion of Don being the play’s Alpha Male on Steppenwolf’s website, Guinan’s performance looks far more like an older alpha dog facing the precariousness of his dominant status. While never openly contested, Don’s rule, such as it is, seems more like the sun setting in the west.

Don is clearly contending with the encroaching limits of age, of being surrounded by people one can never completely trust, of being attached to souls as flawed and incomplete as Teach and Bobby. It’s vulnerability Don dare not show or confess to; it’s vulnerability that blossoms like a neglected flower in the final exchange between Don and Bobby. Certainly Guinan’s performance is not perfect—his opening moments at the top of the first and second acts feel somewhat stiff and the classic Mamet fight scene exposes some anticipation on his part. But the last exchange of tenderness between aging crook and young junky is the play’s crowning glory. Guinan makes it shine beautifully and mercifully through the play’s momentary gap in its dark atmosphere.

 

Rating: ★★★★

 

 

more videos after the fold

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Updates: Steppenwolf’s “Superior Donuts” on Broadway

Tracy Letts’ most recent play, Superior Donuts, just opened on Broadway with the same Steppenwolf cast.  After receiving moderate to warm reviews here in Chicago, the NYC reviews so far appear mixed.

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

 

The NY Post gives Superior Donuts a very positive review – 3.5 stars:

After Superior Donuts, Tracy Letts‘ follow-up to August: Osage County, premiered in Chicago last year, the play was deemed entertaining but minor.

Either this Steppenwolf production has been drastically reworked on its way to New York, or we live in a cynical world where a show as tender and honest, as beautifully written, acted and directed as this one can be blithely dismissed.

 

 

While the New York Times produces a review that is so-so:

Mr. Letts has mothballed his angst and tossed the deadly weapons in the back drawer. Superior Donuts, a gentle comedy that unfolds like an extended episode of a 1970s sitcom, is a warm bath of a play that will leave Broadway audiences with satisfied smiles rather than rattled nerves.

Superior Donuts may be familiar and unchallenging, but it’s also comfortable — and no, there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

Below, Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones interviews playwright Tracy Letts (“August: Osage County“) and lead actor Michael McKean (“Laverne and Shirley“, “Saturday Night Live“, “This is Spinal Tap“) about Superior Donuts, Letts’ new play premiered at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater. Letts’ 2007 play August: Osage County won the Pultizer Prize and Tony Award in 2008.

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“Addams Family” announces creative team

addams family musical logo The creative team for the Broadway production of The Addams Family, to be directed and designed by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, will include two-time Tony Award winner Natasha Katz (lighting), Acme Sound Partners (sound), Obie Award-winner Basil Twist (puppetry), Mary-Mitchell Campbell (music direction), Larry Hochman (orchestrations), Greg Meeh (special effects), and Rick Sordelet (fight direction).

Addams Family, the Musical, based on the bizarre family of characters created by legendary cartoonist Charles Addams, is holding its pre-Broadway run here in Chicago from November 13, 2009-January 10, 2010 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts’ Oriental Theater in Chicago.  The show has a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, and choreography by Sergio Trujillo

bebe_neuwirth_blankandwhiteOnce the production moves to Broadway, Addams Family – the Musical will play the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, with previews beginning March 4, in anticipation of an April 8 opening.

As previous mentioned in this blog, the production will star Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth (photo on right) as Gomez and Morticia Addams, with Terrence Mann and Carolee Carmello as Mal and Alice Beineke, a couple who come to dinner at the family’s residence. The cast will also feature Kevin Chamberlin (Uncle Fester), Jackie Hoffman (Grandmama), Zachary James (Lurch), Adam Riegler (Pugsley), Krysta Rodriguez (Wednesday), and Wesley Taylor (Lucas Beineke). Additional casting will be announced at later dates.