Short Shakespeare! “Romeo & Juliet,” Chicago Shakespeare Theater. I bet Shakespeare never had a problem attracting kids to his shows. I bet they lined up around the block for a lurid little melodrama like Romeo & Juliet, with its sex, violence, insubordination, and overall sense of hormones gone wild. (Scholars honor Hamlet as literature’s first modern existential man, but Romeo and Juliet are demographically far more significant as its first true adolescents.)
Now the play’s a harder sell–mainly, I guess, because kids can get all of the above thrills whenever they want in forms that don’t require parsing Elizabethan English. So the people at Chicago Shakespeare Theater have very nobly done what they can to communicate the message “Shakespeare not boring. Shakespeare good.”
Directed by Gary Griffin, this retelling of the tale of Verona’s star-crossed lovers offers lots of exceedingly attractive young actors in flattering outfits dancing, fighting, and kissing with considerable energy and efficiency over the course of an intermissionless 90 minutes. And if holding a young audience’s interest is the primary intention, it succeeds pretty well. Though certain elements get fudged–especially in the show’s last, mercilessly telescoped scene–the production makes all the basic points with a good deal of style and some conviction.
The only major problem is Cassandra Bissell’s Juliet. Updated into a goofy, airheaded charmer a la Jenna Elfman, the character gets laughs but loses her through line. It’s inconceivable that this Juliet, who treats her dagger like a tooth for the tooth fairy, would even think of dying for love.