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Romeo and Juliet -10/14/1999

By William Shakespeare. Cast: Gabriel Michael, Danforth Comins, Marc Lessman, Charles R. Schoenherr, Elizabeth Robertson, Christopher Denham, Keith Bolden, Joseph “Jay” Kilgore, Andrew B. Carter, Fabio Serafini, Stacey Alexandra Zielke, Jessica Schulte, Kevin Asselin, Tiffany Boeke, Kevin Lambert, Dennis Schnell, Tony Fiorentino, Matthew Johnston, Cara Mantella, Molly Hall, Joanne Capes, Jeffrey Nauman, Nicholas Russo. Director: Tom Mitchell. Fight Choreographer: Robin McFarquhar. Dance Choreographer: Philip Johnston. Scenic Designer: Michael Franklin-White. Costume Designer: James Berton Harris. Lighting Designer: Yasmeen Shorish. Composer and Sound Designer: Jon Schoenoff. Properties Designer: Nathan Michael. Stage Manager: Christa Rolf. Assistant Director and Dramaturg: J.W. Morrissette. Technical Director: Tyler Smith.

University of Illinois Department of Theater.

Through October 24. Colwell Playhouse, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Box office: 333-6280.


One of the revelations of last year’s “Shakespeare in Love” was the idea that once upon a time, audiences came to “Romeo and Juliet” for the very first time, with fresh eyes and open hearts, no preconceptions, with no commercials or cartoons or parodies or pop songs or Broadway musicals to influence them.
If time traveling becomes an option, I think a fair number of people might choose to go back and see that first “R & J” on the basis of “Shakespeare in Love” alone.

The University of Illinois production of this classic tale of woe does not attempt to recreate the experience of the original play, but it does offer a fresh, striking perspective.

Mixing Elizabethan costumes and a spare, post-modern set, with vivid lighting (designed by Yasmeen Shorish) and an intriguing musical score (first composed for a workshop production of the play at the Interlochen School of Arts last summer), this “Romeo and Juliet” is technically superb, with eloquent visual and aural images.

Director Tom Mitchell has pulled all the elements together for a production that casts the young lovers as pawns in a somewhat chilly, unfeeling society.
Michael Franklin-White’s scenic design underlines that mood, with its bare, sculpted playing space, a blend of gray flannel, silver metal, soft backdrops, and a big white disc that stands in as a bed and a funeral bier.

The sheet metal is used to especially good effect, creating rippling reflections of light and color, as well as discordant clangs and clatters when it gets banged on.

The look of the play is also aided by James Berton Harris’s gorgeous costume design, from billowing cloaks and gowns down to body-conscious doublet and hose.
If the set and costumes create a starkly elegant feel, the fights, dances and acting performances heat things up nicely.

The fast, furious fight scenes are beautifully choreographed by Fight Director Robin McFarquhar and skillfully performed by a host of Capulets and Montagues, most notably Danforth Comins and Kevin Asselin as Mercutio and Tybalt.
Comins offers a dashing, dark-edged Mercutio, while Asselin shows a wild eye and feline grace as Tybalt. Both are impressive performances, and they add tension and pace throughout.

As the star-crossed lovers, Christopher Denham and Jessica Schulte hold the center of the play nicely. Denham is romantic and impetuous as Romeo, while Schulte makes an enchanting, passionate, loveswept Juliet. They both navigate the minefields of their character’s emotions with sure skill, and their balcony scene is a delight.

“Romeo and Juliet” is not a powder puff or an easy night -- it is a tragedy, after all. Even with cuts to the text, this one comes in at more than two-and-a-half hours. But this is a worthy effort, with performances and production details that deserve to be seen.

Now how about using the same actors for a stage version of “Shakespeare in Love”? It works for me.

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