WINDY CITY TIMES
||Theater: Romeo & Juliet
This article shared 2740 times since Wed Jul 7, 2004
Playwright: William Shakespeare
At: Oak Park Festival Theatre at Austin Gardens, Forest Avenue, Oak Park
Phone: (708) 524-2050; $20
Runs through: August 22
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
The legendary clan wars of West Virginia's Hatfields and McCoys being indelibly etched into our history, the notion of a blood-feud involving the Capulet and Montague families, two once-prosperous houses crippled by the Great Depression, is not implausible. Nor does it stretch credulity for two youngsters dwelling in an isolated region where, as recently as 50 years ago, one could hear the Queen's English—Elizabeth the FIRST, that is—spoken, to meet and fall in love.
The concept imposed by director Virginia Smith on Shakespeare's classic fable serves its story surprisingly well, demystifying the exotic setting to root the action squarely within our own heritage. The ball at the Capulet's house is enlivened by reels, jigs and square dances (themselves descendants of the old-country Galliardes, Pavanes and Corantos). A blind crone delivers the prologue in a clear and delicate soprano like a Jean Ritchie ballad. And in the pivotal duel, Mercutio's 'frog-stick' is clearly outmatched by Tybalt's fearsome Bowie knife. (Common brawls employ such handy weapons as shovels, axes and hayforks, with Kaintuck wrestling constituting the prevailing mode of hand-to-hand combat.)
Hearing the familiar speeches declaimed with an Appalachian twang may strike indigenous audiences as droll—Yankee prejudices labeling southern accents 'dumb', much as we equate British accents with 'smart'. But the hard consonants and mellifluous vowels lend the dialogue an urgency too often muffled by overly refined phrasing, in turn sparking the actors to a level of conviction immediately invoking our empathy. The absence of cumbersome period costumes likewise allows for vigorous physical action employing not only the stage itself, but the surrounding grounds as well (Juliet bicycles to Preacher Lawrence's humble cottage, for example). And while Paul Amandes' songs feature lyrics borrowed from several plays in the Shakespeare canon, his guitar-and-banjo arrangements are firmly anchored in the American folk idiom.
This Oak Park Festival Theatre production—which restores the professionalism temporarily compromised by financial and organizational setbacks last season—represents a fresh and imaginative interpretation of a venerable classic. With the rains finally ending, so praiseworthy an effort must surely be rewarded.
This article shared 2740 times since Wed Jul 7, 2004
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