A FREE LOVE ADAPTATION OF ROMEO AND JULIETTE FOR THE MOON, THE SUN AND A FEW STARS, Chicago Actors Ensemble. This puzzling little theatrical pas de deux, created by the NADA Theatre in Les Ulis, France, proves once again that the French deserve their corner on the doomed-young-love market. The play begins with the last scene of Shakespeare’s play, as Romeo chokes down poison, Juliette hacks up her midsection, and both cough up gorgeous iambic pentameter. Then, in the postsuicidal silence, Juliette’s toes curl. Romeo blinks. The two try to kill themselves again. No luck. After a half dozen attempts, they realize they can no longer die for love, that they’ve been kept on life support for the past 400 years by the undying adoration of generations of audiences.

Since they can’t die, they search for the primal source of their love, probing legends as diverse as Tristan and Isolde, Bonnie and Clyde, even the origins of the sun and moon. The hallucinatory script wanders through a literary historical universe, stopping now and again to bring the whole shebang crashing back down to earth. “I don’t know how to kiss,” a decidedly adolescent Juliette declares. “What does one do with the nose?” Director Rick Helweg’s pacing may be a bit sluggish, but he wisely emphasizes the work’s high artifice; his actors identify not with their characters but with the text, giving the evening an appropriately cerebral edge. And in the play’s final moments, as the air fills with delicate blue bubbles and strains of “Only You,” you may imagine you’ve left crumbling Uptown behind and entered a world of pure sublimity. –Justin Hayford