On the way home from Idaho, we stopped in Chicago to visit family, and to see The Hypocrites’ new production of Romeo and Juliet. (Full disclosure: our nephew is in the company, and the production.) The play is described as being by William Shakespeare and Felice Romani (author the libretto for Vaccai’s opera, with which I am unfamiliar), adapted and directed by Sean Graney, but it felt more like a collaboration between John Webster and Joss Whedon.
The story has been scrambled – Romeo is now the furious leader of a rebellion against the Capulets – and Shakespeare’s lines shuffled and dealt to the condensed cast of characters (played by only four actors – Zeke Sulkes as Mercutio and Capulet, Walter Briggs as Romeo, Lindsey Gavel as Juliet and Tybalt, and Tien Doman as the Nurse and Paris) as an experiment. The object: to learn how the familiar words would sound in different mouths, and intercut by self-conscious colloquial dialogue. (After being fatally stabbed, Mercutio – who in this play is Romeo’s side-kick rather than Romeo being a wayward member of his entourage as in Shakespeare – cries out, “you stole my life – and my lines!” And he isn’t talking to Tybalt, who Romeo killed not in vengeance but as part of the rebellion; he’s talking to Paris. More scrambling.) The whole thing moves at breakneck pace, racing through the story in less than an hour.
Some of the omelets made from these broken eggs were quite tasty. I enjoyed hearing Romeo say Juliet’s lines in an inverted balcony scene, and I enjoyed seeing the Nurse, who here has to play the Friar’s part in the tragedy as well, revel in her own malevolence, which is suppressed in the Shakespeare. But as a complete meal, I wasn’t sure it was entirely satisfying. The story as a whole makes much less sense, either logically or emotionally, than Shakespeare’s, and the Bard’s ironies are mostly rolled over by the careening plot.
I’m a big fan of Graney’s work, and particularly of These Seven Sicknesses, his adaptation of all the works of Sophocles into a single marathon evening of tragedy. When I heard he was doing something with Romeo and Juliet, my immediate thought was, “I’d rather see what he does with Troilus and Cressida.” And I’d still like to see that. But in the meantime, anything this talented company lays on is eminently worth savoring.
Romeo and Juliet plays in various venues around Chicago through July 21st.