3 out of 4 stars
In its sixth annual tour, Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks is a Chicago Shakespeare Theater program in conjunction with the Chicago Parks district that encourages communities to embrace the bard’s work free of charge. This August the tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet” adapted and directed by Marti Lyons takes stage, as the company tours 18 parks across Chicagoland. This 75- minute abridged play follows the famous tale of a pair of star-crossed lovers and the feud between the Capulets and Montagues which divide a city.
Easily a summer tradition, a strength of this particular program is it’s dedication to inclusion across the communities of Chicago by providing American Sign Language duo-interpreted performances and audio-described performances at certain locations, as well as translating the story line included in the program into Spanish. Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s extraordinary artistry and commitment to schools and neighborhoods have made the theater a vital partner to the city for thirty years and this program gives back to the city’s supportive community.
Embodying themes of love and hate, this version of the classic tale is a great way to spend an evening this summer. Bring a picnic and a blanket and enjoy! The addition of modernized hip-hop beat remixed with classic music during the Capulet’s ball was particularly enjoyable to the pivotal scene where soft hearted Romeo, played by Nate Santana, meets Juliet. Santana is no stranger to the CST stage and is also an ensemble member of Teatro Vista and artistic associate with Shattered Globe Theatre. Santana’s strength lies in his incredible delivery that flows so seamlessly and conveys so much in tone, which perfectly compliments Emma Ladji’s sincere Juliet. The transitions between scenes were well placed. The audience feels involved and apart of the production through such careful blocking and well-aware actors climbing over backpacks. The scenery transports the audience from the local park to the streets of Verona and Juliet’s ivy covered balcony in the Capulet garden. A particular highlight to such a simple set was the changeable foreground of a multi-purpose fountain set piece that changes to bed then crypt.
While the actor’s excel in their craft, the costume design by Mieka Van Der Ploeg pops against the green foliage of the park. The designs are very traditional to the period the play sets in, but a highlight was the seemingly lighter choices in fabric, which seems an ideal choice compared women weighed down under pounds of fabric in sweltering heat. This play not only calls for love’s light wings, but also love’s light clothing, as Chicago summers are unpredictable. Many of the women’s dresses blew dramatically in the wind (although seemingly slightly problematic at times). Van Der Ploeg hones together beautiful patterns, rich color and exquisite detail in the tailoring that flatters each character individually. The rich Capulet family enrobed in deep blues with small headdresses and fur collared capes. In classic Shakespearean style, gender bending was nodded to in the creation of costumes for Benvolio and the Prince. Both characters played by women, reciting men’s lines, yet wearing gorgeous half dress-half pants ensembles, thus eliminating the gender barrier.
Lil Mojekwu is no stranger to playing a concerned mother. Mojekwu’s previous recent role in Objects in the Mirror (Goodman) was so provoking and emotional that her depth in playing Lady Capulet shines. Another actor to note with a memorable performance as evoking strained emotion is Michael Perez (Friar Laurence/Ensemble). With honorable intentions of encouraging love turns to turmoil, Friar Laurence is the lynch pin of this tale and Perez captures the extremes of happiness and loss so potently. On the note of loss, sword fighting is at the forefront of the plot where Matt Hawkins’s choreography creates suspense and a truly dynamic use of space.
If you have the opportunity, Romeo and Juliet in the parks this summer is a must! Bring family and friends and enjoy the tragic love story under the canopy of nature. To see where the next performance is please visit www.chicagoshakes.com/parks or call 312.595.5600
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!