Romeo and Juliet The Hypocrites

Highly Recommended - "At this tragedy’s climax, the pitiful sight I thought I knew well brought new tears to my eyes" - Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 5/30/12

" and inventive "Romeo Juliet".. One is not bored here for a second.." Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 5/25/12

Tix $36 - Box office 773-989-7352

5/23/12 - 7/1/12

Thu-Sat 730p; Sat 10p; Sun 3p

Highly Recommended - Romeo & Juliet - Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 5/30/12 .  "Sean Graney’s new adaptation of the Romeo and Juliet story  follows some patterns that could seem familiar to viewers of the director’s work with the Hypocrites. Just looking at recent years, Graney’s Romeo Juliet echoes elements  of his distillations of Oedipus, Pirates of Penzance and Sophocles’ surviving plays:  It involves a downsized cast making thematic hay of doubling roles and a gleeful—occasionally  verging on juvenile—interpolation of modern vernacular into classic texts.

Romeo Juliet, though, incorporates a couple of new wrinkles. Graney takes two texts as his sources:  both Shakespeare’s familiar script and Felice Romani’s less ubiquitous libretto for Bellini’s 1830 opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi, based on Italian sources. And the director allows his sometimes sprawling stagings to be physically  constrained by his actors, who double as the production’s designers.

The action is confined to, as one of the actors puts it, “some kind of ’70s basement circus tent” in which the audience  is crammed into banquette seats on four sides of a 12-foot-square white shag carpet, upon which Walter Briggs, Lindsey  Gavel, Tien Doman and Zeke Sulkes enact the star-cross’d romance, thrillingly proximate sword fights and all.

At first, the Hypocrites’ production threatens a deadly tweeness. The entrance to the performance space is preceded by  a service of tea, poured by the cast members at gingham-lined picnic tables, and the use of 20th-century pop tunes spinning on a mod turntable seems at first like a cheap form of commentary.

But as Romeo Juliet progresses, Graney’s use of the multiple texts (Shakespeare’s, Romani’s and his own) provides increasingly surprising resonances, particularly in a gut-wrenching repurposing of Shakespeare’s morning-after scene.  The four actors draw attention to the discoveries they and their director have made without becoming ostentatious.  At this tragedy’s climax, the pitiful sight I thought I knew well brought new tears to my eyes"


Not past our dancing days yet: Sean Graney's fun and inventive "Romeo Juliet" - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 5/25/12. "I've heard the perennially excellent question "What light through yonder window breaks?" on countless occasions. I have never heard it spoken by Juliet and never while sucking on an orange. Me, not her.

But Juliet is a girl with questions who always deserved more to say. And those succulent fruit were on sale at the Globe Theatre  when William Shakespeare's young lovers first made their appearance. So there is a historic relationship. Anyway, oranges handed  out by the cast are not the only light refreshment on offer at director Sean Graney's charming little show, which explores that famous Shakespearean tragedy of teenage amour in no more than 80 minutes. The evening begins with the audience ushered in to a little romantic cave filled with miniature lights and carved by the Hypocrites from the basement of the Chopin Theatre. Therein, one is served  tea at long picnic tables that oblige you, for a few moments at least, to strike up a conversation with your fellow theatergoers.

Thence you are led by the actors into a little canvaslike structure — rather like a teenage girl's tented hideaway erected inside her  bedroom, circa 1979, and filled with shag carpeting, a lava lamp and a hot-pink record player that can spin "Morning Has Broken" when  the moment so demands. The song stylings of Phil Collins are on offer too, deftly timed to moments like the one where the nurse opines  that all love ends in tragedy.

Audience members scrunch up on a long, circular bench as four actors do the play. By play, I mean a combination of the actual "Romeo and Juliet" text (the good bits) coupled with parts of Felice Romani's libretto for "I Capuleti e I Montecchi," coupled with various bits of  modern language like "whoa!" or "I didn't follow that." The entire show is done on that shag carpet, stage combat and all, with various  interesting double castings, including the combination of Tybalt and Juliet, both played with sensual zest by Lindsey Gavel, or the Nurse and Paris, both by Tien Doman.

Graney has no interest in fetishistic adherence to the original text — so purists be warned — but this piece ends up being rather more than a  humorous deconstruction. There are some potent connections that emerge between Gavel and Walter Briggs, who plays Romeo as a kind of honest  Midwesterner of limited intelligence. The outer frame of the show is kept deliberately vague — I think it could emerge with a little more definition — but one advantage of that is you are able to spin your own explanations in your head as you watch these four young people jumping around on the carpet. It feels to me rather like Juliet is mounting her own show, starring herself, and combining her traditional lovelorn role  as an object of desire (who would want to give that up?) only with more post-feminist action and self-definition. It's notable that Graney  begins his take with the line "Juliet, where are you?" spoken by the nurse but sounding like the cry of a mother who can't find her teenage daughter. Certainly, the women dominate the show, with Briggs' Romeo affecting a constant air of sincere confusion, while Zeke Sulkes makes  genial trouble as a variety of the play's big personalities, only to be vanquished by the stellar tag-team of Gavel and Doman.

One is not bored here for a second — if you have a young person studying this play, you should take 'em to this and expand their mind on how a  great story can inspire artists across the years — and there are a lot of clever staging ideas, such as the moment when that tea we've all been drinking takes on a different role, or when a single blade, hung in the air, stands in for a body, or when Paris, played by a woman, starts prattling on about how disobedience and the feminine do not belong together. He looks quite the fool.

As with many of Graney's creations, this one is gently self-aware, with the characters knowing they are in a drama and suggesting, on occasion,  that they are doing this or that "because it is the next thing you do in a play." I'm all for a light touch, and the inclusion of the audience  works beautifully here, but some of those moments have the whiff of unnecessary insecurity, and they pull you from the intensity of the grand  passion of loss, of which Gavel and Briggs have considerable beginnings but not the full execution. If the contrast was sharpened between this conception, which truly is a delight, and the horrors and ecstasy of the actual play, then this show really would be something.

In program notes Graney observes that the actors were charged with designing the set by themselves. That would lead one to expect a couple of  benches in a black void. But these performers create an entire fanciful world, a visual sculpture, really, that interacts with these clippings  of the greatest love story ever told in an entertaining and enlightening way. It is a fine choice for a date: You will gain an intimate connection  with your companion, should you have one. And if not? Well, "I can feel it, coming in the air tonight, oh Lord".


Romeo & Juliet - Zac Thomspons, Chicago Reader 5/30/12. - "Sean Graney's loose adaptation of Romeo and
Juliet draws not only on Shakespeare's tragedy but on Felice Romani's libretto for a Vincenzo Bellini opera,
The Capulets and the Montagues. In Graney's alternately ardent and jokey staging for the Hypocrites, "fair Verona"
looks a lot like a blanket fort in your nana's rec room. The audience is led into a small, green gingham tent where
a cast of four acts out the whole thing on a shag rug. The production's peculiar combination of immediacy and irreverence
 seems at times to satirize teenage love (so intense, so careless). At other times, it feels like Graney is riffing
 and remixing for the sake of riffing and remixing. Still, the last scene is wrenching, thanks in large part to Walter
 Briggs's ferocious Romeo".

Romeo & Juliet - Recommended - Johnny Oleksinksi, New City Chicago 5/30/12.  "..The story of the star-crossed lovers, despite the play’s abbreviated length, mix-matched dialogue and skeleton cast, is told with astonishing breadth and clarity. The tone, alternately playful and horrific, shifts with unforced adjustments in lighting, position and music, often involving a snakey lamp or a nifty retro record player. The music is a cool blend of Leonard Cohen, Fun and frolicking classical  fare. Graney’s script acknowledges the play’s theatricality often, with some of the jokes landing better than  others, but the device, if nothing else, shatters the audience’s preconceptions."

Romeo & Juliet - Mary Shen Barnridge, Windy City Times 6/6/12 - "If Sean Graney's wedding of Dumas' La Dame Aux Camélias  with Verdi's La Traviata in 2004 could be dubbed a mash-up,  this amalgamation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Felice Romani's libretto for Bellini's I Capuleti e I Montecchi  is a jambalaya. Imagine feeding both texts through a shredder and then reconstructing the venerable story from the fragments, or recounting the tragic tale of star-crossed lovers as a children's telephone-game. Astonishingly enough, it all emerges  whole, coherent and extremely entertaining.

The Shakespeare play is based on a feud between families, but Romani hearkens to the earlier 13th-century Italian version,
 in which the Montecchi and Capuleti are rival political factions, with Romeo and his sidekick Lorenzo leading the armies
 rebelling against the incumbent rule of Guilietta's father, Capellio. That's all you need to know, because under Graney's
direction, four actors in rehearsal clothes take on all the roles, their stage a room-sized rug (we, the audience, are the
 surrounding walls), augmented by a '50s-style pole-lamp; some likewise vintage audio equipment; and furniture that includes  a butcher-block coffee table holding four sturdy swords.

For 80 minutes, this quartet proceeds to enact the timeless tragedy at warp speed, dancing between their respective scripts with occasional forays into modern vernacular ("You're really creepy, boy!") while melding multiple characters into single functioning personalities. "Romeo's sidekick," for example, combines parts of Benvolio, Friar Lawrence and the Nurse. This inevitably leads to a certain amount of self-referential humor, as when a dying Mercutio accuses his assassin of "stealing my life and my lines!"

What distinguishes these antics from those of comparative-lit undergrads on a spree the day after finals ("Oh, Paris, you're such a pussy!") is the disciplined precision exhibited by the artists tackling material rendered difficult by its rearrangement of familiar language into unfamiliar sequence as they deliver it to spectators seated so close that warnings are issued when Ryan Bourque's cleverly crafted violence is imminent. Walter Briggs, Lindsay Gavel, Tien Doman and Zeke Sulkes never miss a step, maintaining a smooth flow of tempo and momentum so that the infrequent stumble passes virtually undetected, even by theatergoers spurred to peak alertness by the dazzling microcosm flashing before their eyes. However many interpretations of this classroom classic you may have witnessed—and the more, the better—you'll never again see it like this".


Tix $36 - Box office 773-989-7352

Based on the libretto for the Bellini opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi by Felice Romani

Adapation and direction - Sean Graney

Walter Briggs, Tien Doan, Lindsey Gavel, Zeke Sulkes

Design Team - Walter Briggs, Tien Doan, Lindsey Gavel, Zeke Sulkes; Stage Manager - Miranda Anderson

Tags: Theater, American, 2012