Review "Romeo & Juliet": Urban- Edgy Looks Fantastical, Sounds a Little Off-Key

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents

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ROMEO & JULIET
On Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Avenue
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Gale Edwards
Buy Tickets
Thru November 21st
Running time:  Two hours and forty-five minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Party crasher falls for host's daughter.  Their love is doomed by a family feud.  They go for the eternal happy ending with a suicide pact.  Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents ROMEO & JULIET, the classic love story tragedy.  The Montague and the Capulets are rivals.  Their offspring, Romeo and Juliet, fall in love after a chance encounter.  Juliet's cousin murders Romeo's best friend.  Romeo retaliates by killing the cousin.  Romeo is banished from town.  Juliet is engaged to another.  Juliet fakes her death to run away with Romeo.  Unfortunately, Romeo doesn't receive her note detailing the plan.  Instead, his bereavement goes suicidal.  Waking up from her scam, Juliet discovers Romeo is dead.  She uses a dagger to follow her lover out.  Undoubtedly, the most famous of Playwright William Shakespeare's stories, the doomed love affair has been the focal point for other play and film versions.  Chicago Shakespeare Theater puts its own urban twist on ROMEO & JULIET with a fantastical gothic west side look.

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The show opens with the simultaneous lifting of multiple garage doors.  The combination of the industrial look (Scenic Designer Brian Sidney Bembridge) lit up in eerie underworld style (Lighting Designer John Culbert) is a gasp-worthy moment.  The rivaling families adorned in contemporary styles with gang colors (Montague -teal, Capulets -red) help instantly identify sides.  Costume Designer Ana Kuzmanic kicks the division up another notch by dressing higher ranking family members in three piece suits and ancillary kin in some eighties-'Beat It'-attire.  The edgier "West Side Story" visual is the perfect setting for hate to grow.  It does and flourishes.  The sword fighting, directed by Rick Sordelet, is scary great.  Not so much the usual, elegant, staged, choreographed dueling, it's more the testosterone-oozing-take-it-to-the-streets violence that elicits maternal concerns for the safety of the actors and the first row. 

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Leading his buddies into battle, Ariel Shafir (Mercutio) is hilarious with mischievous arrogance.  Exploiting an underlying sexual humor in most of his lines, Shafir is magnificently crude.  His unfamiliar interpretation sheds a new and dirty light on the playwright.  'Turning his face to the dew-dropping south.'  Who knew?  Another standout is Ora Jones (Nurse) with a unique and distinct spin on a supporting character. 

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Jones brings a heap of playful personality as Juliet's confidante.  Joy Farmer-Clary (Juliet) has a fresh and enthusiastic approach to love.  Farmer-Clary is charming as a young innocent who fell for the wrong guy.  'Wrong guy' is the issue.  Jeff Lillico (Romeo) claims Juliet has made him effeminate.  I'm thinking it must have been Rosalyn!  Lillico's higher voice range is a speed bump for the passion driving the love story.  It might not be an issue in other productions.  In this Chicago Shakes' version of ROMEO & JULIET, the contrast, to the dude-where's-my-sword masculine vibe, makes the hero's poetic presence off key.   

 

From the cozy confines of dress circle, Jen says, 'the stage allowed for amazing action scenes and the lighting trasformed the mood.' 

Production Photos courtesy of Liz Lauren.

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