The Most Excellent & Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet
TUTA Theater

Critic's Choice - Tony Adler, Chicago Reader 11/27/08
4 Stars - "Exquisite" - Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 11/26/08

11/20/08 - 12/21/08

Th-Sa 8p; Su 3p. Preview (11/18-19); Reg. run 11/20-12/21

Critic's Choice - Tony Adler, Chicago Reader 11/27/08

Eastern Europeans seem to have an advantage over native English speakers when it comes to directing Shakespeare. I've seen loads of wonderful productions by Americans, Brits, and so on, but two of my three all-time favorites were created by artists from the former Soviet bloc. And now, with Zeljko Djukich's TUTA Theatre staging of The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, it's three of four.

Djukich, once of Yugoslavia, doesn't exhibit the contempt familiarity breeds in anglophone directors, who often feel compelled to search for novelty in the Bard by taking him apart onstage. Maybe just reading Shakespeare in the original is deconstruction enough for him. Instead, Djukich and his talented cast--most particularly Matthew Holzfeind, who adds Romeo to a string of extraordinary performances--engage the tale of star-crossed lovers completely, and what they come up with can be astonishing.

Little things like identifying Juliet's father as physically abusive make a great deal clear. The big thing, though, is Djukich's recognition that this play, no less than Hamlet, is about words: their misuse, overuse, and failure. In fact, he reveals Romeo and Juliet as a kind of rough draft for Hamlet, and his beautiful final scene gets to the heart of the earlier play's tragedy by way of a profound strategy echoing a line from the later play: "The rest is silence."

Romeo & Juliet - Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 11/25/08

The core couple in Djukic’s rendition of Shakespeare’s impetuous doomed lovers would make the whole endeavor worthwhile no matter what went on around them. When Wedoff and Holzfeind share the stage, they give off the sense that they too have lost track of the world outside of themselves. In the opening scenes, Holzfeind’s introspective Romeo mopes over unrequited puppy love, while Wedoff’s indistinctive parent-pleaser Juliet seems content to sleepwalk through her days.

As soon as they spot each other, however, fresh passion is awakened within them. In the exquisite intimacy of their scenes together and the anguish they display when kept apart, the two actors exude a simultaneous confusion and elation; this Juliet and her Romeo may not fully understand the rush they induce in one another, but they’d gladly die before giving it up.

What goes on around them, it turns out, is pretty solid and fairly straightforward. Staged on Martin Andrew’s skeletal semicircle of platforms and scaffolding, with Keith Parham’s stark lights setting the mood, Djukic’s R & J is neither period nor revisionist, not too stuffy and not too contemporary (with the possible exception of Peter DeFaria’s oddly tough-guy Friar Laurence).

The director’s only grand flourish caps off his simple, sound staging: a simple lack of sound. The denouement in the Capulet tomb is wordless and compressed. Though it seems like heresy, it succeeds; watching the needless, heedless deaths play out in quicksilver silence is a rash and sudden lightning bolt to the gut.

The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet - Chicago Tribune 11/21/08

Chicago's distinguished experimental theater takes on the iconic Shakespearean tragedy in Wicker Park. "This is not romantic" says director Zeljko Djukic of his show"

"Must See":Romeo & Juliet - Beatrice Smigasewicz, 11/2/08

Some classics never go out of style and some never go out of use. A black dress will always be in, but try picking up a girl with “what light through yonder window breaks” and you might cry yourself all the way home. Some classics are better left in a book, or even better, on the stage. When it comes to Romeo and Juliet, the line between a classic and a cliché can be dangerously thin.

This is why the director and T.U.T.A.’s theater company member Zaljko Djukic put forth his vision of Romeo and Juliet by concentrating on what Jan Kott calls "shots and sequences." On one level this means portraying the inner dialogue of each of the characters on stage the way you would in a movie. The character speaks and leaves, fades to the background, and so on. Interrupted by short action scenes, this method gives you a close up, an insider's view of what's really going on inside the characters' heads.

The effect is much harder to accomplish. The first half is a bit slow, and the stage empty save for the one or two characters who are either inactive or on their way out. With the flood of overhead lighting in the first scenes it can be difficult to focus on the who and what. The action seems to be in Shakespeare’s riddles and language which can sometimes get lost in a metaphor, leaving the audience behind somewhere in the back row of high school English class.

The play picks up in the second half. The simple structure of the scenery scaffolding opens up with curtains, bed, and the full cast comes to fill the stage. Although I was just mourning the death of the last act’s most charismatic character, Mercutio, played by Aaron Holland—who quite possibly could have stolen the entire show—I was finally seeing what Djukic is known for. The stage comes to life as Juliet lies sleeping in her grave, filled with echoes of the tomb, and in the stage's periphery Romeo learns of her death. As the two worlds collide, the audience is left with an unforgettable vision of the world’s most famous duo.

TUTA gives an old love story a youthful shot in the arm - Chris Piatt, TimeOut Chicago Fall Preview 9/3/08 - “TUTA delivers the goods—it’s that simple. The low-profile, Off-Loop theater company picks meaty plays, strips them to their barest elements, casts them with great actors, admits a paying audience and then stands back to let it all unfold. Considering the number of mediocre plays that open in any given season, that must be harder than it sounds.

In November, TUTA is producing The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (the original title of the play’s 1599 printed edition). And to be fair, if you’d told us at the beginning of this year that the fall show we’d be most excited about would be Romeo and Juliet, we would have requested transfer paperwork for Time Out Islamabad. But a TUTA R & J promises something more than another Shakespeare revival.

Our zealous faith in the project is based mainly on director Zeljko Djukic; his previous efforts have shown that he knows more about youth angst than the entire Brat Pack. In the 2006 plays Huddersfield and Tracks, both of which examined the raw lives of twentysomethings coping with the aftermath of the Balkan wars, Djukic found some of the city’s most gifted young actors and produced howling, visceral, even terrifying pieces of theater.

And what’s more howling, visceral and terrifying than young romance on war-torn streets? “How come we still think this play is a romantic poem? [The] Montagues and Capulets’ world is defined by hatred,” Djukic says of Shakespeare’s love story. From the director’s point of view, “Hostility and hatred [should be] presented vividly and trustfully so that the love should seem improbable.”

If young lovers surrounded by hostility and hatred don’t sound like your cup of tea, allow us to introduce the lovers in question: Alice Wedoff, TUTA’s too-good-to-call-her-an-ingénue ingénue, and Matt Holzfeind, a sometimes-underground-sometimes-mainstream offbeat everyman who never disappoints. As if two live wires like Wedoff and Holzfeind on the stage weren’t enough, this full-throttle R & J will draw much of its energy from an adrenaline-pumping live score of rock and pop, performed entirely by the cast”

But don’t expect any fatty ingredients in this lean staging. In fact, you’ll witness the exact opposite at this high-impact piece of kinetic Shakespeare. As Djukic puts it, “Playing Shakespeare is good for losing weight.”

Romeo & Juliet – Monica Westin, NewCity Chicago 11/24/08

“The high point of of Zeljko Djukic’s production takes place in its very first moments, when two suspicious Capulet servants circle one another ambivalently and vulnerably, creating a tension and hypersensitivity that could have set an exquisite emotional compass for the play, but unfortunately the aura evaporates almost immediately. Instead, the show feels increasingly less controlled and meaningful, as actors rush on and offstage with little palpable motivation and with a real sense of free-floating anxiety as they attempt to maintain one high note of emotional timbre. There are a few exceptions, notably Carolyn Hoerdmann’s refreshingly earthy Nurse and Peter DeFaria as a Friar Laurence who creates something close to a moral center of the play; but overall the actors seem antsy rather than commanding, leaning on or clinging awkwardly to the poles and scaffolding that comprise the set, so that the structure onstage ends up feeling less like a minimalist modernization of Elizabethan technical theater than a kind of cage or prison. To put it much more simply, the show seems to be stuck in the text rather than deploying or appropriating it”

Monica Westin, 11/26/08 “I need to add as a postscript that I was not able to attend all of this performance; unfortunately, this review is based on the first act alone and I apologize for presenting it otherwise. Obviously it’s impossible for me to comment on the second half, and I regret having relied on friends’ testimonies about the second half without being explicit about it”

From The Director

Is this a story about love or about hatred? If it is about love, it is certainly not about romantic love; for Romeo and Juliet live in a cruel, menacing, throat-cutting world. Terrible street fights. Brawls. Rampages. Beatings. Banishments. Corpses. Destruction. Whole scale of violence.

In the middle of hatred, love is born. Within hostility lovers are caught in a web of contradiction. Love that gives meaning to the disfigured world. A challenge? A protest, perhaps?

Romeo and Juiet's love is expressed with overwhelming physical force. That's how much it takes them to reach a moment of happiness.

This is not romantic.

Montague's and Capulet world is defined by hatred. They nurture it as something delicate and precious. Hatred is their tradition. It's what they believe defines them. To be different from the other, to negate the other (family), means to have identity. Never mind that they themselves have forgotten why they hate each other. Nations fight wars over traditions they themselves don't understand. Values are defined by tradition. Or religion. Or economy. Or, whatever is attached to our egos.

Why in violent situations young people are always sacrificed first? Why kids are sent to fight conflicts they don't understand? Manipulated. Used. Thrown away. And then glorified as "lost generation." Of course, it all ends with the opposing parties building a monument to dead youth. That's how we kill our future. Just as it happens in life. Indeed, " ... there is no sadder tale on the face of the earth!" And nobody tells it better than Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare

Zeljko Djukic with assistance by Karen Yates

Alice Wedoff (Juliet); Matthew Holzfeind (Romeo); Aaron Holland (Mercutio); Dana Wall (Tybalt/Paris); Steven Hadnagy (Capulet); Jennifer Byers (Lady Capulet); Carolyn Hoerdmann (the Nurse); Peter DeFaria (Friar Laurence); Mark Kollar (Montague); James Bezy (Benvolio); Dan Cox (Peter/Prince) and Alzan Pelesic (Sampson; Nick DuFloth (Gregory); and Chloe Honeyman-Bloede (Balthasar)

Set Design by Martin Andrew; Costume Design by Natasha Djukic; Lighting Design by Keith Parham; Props Design by Helen Lattyak; Sound Design by Mikhail Fiskel; Fight Choreographer by Matthew Hawkins; Stage Manager - Sloane Spencer; Asst Stage Manager - Chloe Honeyman-Bloede; Asst Dir - Karen Yates; Voice/Text - Tanera Marshall; Technical Director - Carter Robins; Production Manager - Adam Fox; Photographer- Vojkan Radonjic; Grapic Designer - Davis Beasley.

Tags: Theater, Old Europe, 2008