Monday, September 27, 2010

Romeo and Juliet (The Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

Through Nov. 21 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier; Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes; Tickets: $44-$75 at 312-595-5600 or
 “If you can’t believe in Romeo and Juliet, what’s left of love?”

This is Chris Jones’s conclusion of his Chicago Tribune review of the production of Romeo & Juliet playing at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.  He criticizes the production for being “the most cynical ‘Romeo and Juliet’ you’re ever likely to see. Love conquers nothing here. Love is nowhere near the theater.”

Mr. Jones, I believe you’re missing the point of the play. William Shakespeare classifies this play as a “tragedy” with other great works like Hamlet and King Lear. Yes, you are right there no love anywhere near this production, but there isn’t any love in the play itself. This powerful production that the Chicago Shakespeare Theater drives home the most interesting and powerful parts of the Shakespeare’s’ most famous work which have less to do with love but the tragedy of letting passion reign over reason.

Romeo falls for Juliet less than a day after Rosaline dumps him. If that’s not a rebound girl, I don’t know what is. Juliet responds to Romeo instantly falling in "love."  I don’t know if love at first sight exists but what I do know is that Juliet at the tender age of 14, Juliet has had little to no interaction with guys outside her family as her father describes. So it’s no big surprise that the first guy she meets she falls for projecting her love fantasies on Romeo. They follow their passion even though they know this isn’t a good idea and plan to marry,

Friar Lawrence isn’t much better. First he tells the two not to marry, gets the idea that maybe it would make peace between the two families.  He foreshadows his mistakes commenting that people “stumble who run too fast” and man does he stumble. Instead of helping the Capulets by consoling them with the truth he comes up with a convoluted plan involving a suspended animation and deceit

The director makes the insightful argument that if there is any one person to blame for the tragedy it's Capulet, Juliet’s father.  He is violent, impulsive, brash and irrational. When he tells Tybalt not to fight Romeo at his party it’s more than words. He slaps him, chokes him and shoves him the ground, threatening him as he stabs a sword through his hand. Even more scary is when he tells Juliet that she will marry Paris.  This results in one of the most intense portrayals of domestic violence I’ve ever seen against Lady Capulet, The Nurse and Juliet. With a patriarch like that is it no wonder other characters are so impulsive.

The production isn’t perfect. The costumes where inconsistent and the recorded incidental music was for the most part mediocre and unnecessary. Like a great old movie there are some things about Romeo And Juliet that don’t work with our modern sensibility. I mean was the death of Lady Montague in the end really necessary?

Those things were inconsequential. The director pulled all of the different characters to a central theme treating it more like an ensemble cast.  The complexities of the tragedy shine right through the Shakespearean dialog reminding me that these plays are truly at their most powerful live on stage.

If you want to a see a love story go watch “Noting Hill.” If you want to experience a true tragedy filled with pain, passion and violence go check out the Chicago Shakespeare’s production of Romeo And Juliet.

“If you can’t believe in Romeo and Juliet, what’s left of love?”  There is nothing left of love because believing in Romeo And Juliet is heading Shakespeare's warning of the darkness of our passions deep within out hearts.

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