Part Gothic horror retelling, part afternoon high-school special, First Folio’s production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” has something for everyone. Clearly director Nick Sandys sees the principal point of the play as communities in conflict rather than a love story out of bounds, emphasized by the entire cast whispering the “Two households” prologue before they have an immensely physical and entertaining family feud (Sandys, a fine actor as well as a director, is best known around town as a fight choreographer).
Romeo (Will Allan) is a dweeb, Juliet (Kelsey Brennan) is a bit of a bitch, but what is wonderful is how truly teenage they both are. So often we have seen older actors play these roles or even teenage actors play them, but either way, the performance standard is adult. Not here. It’s distracting at first, but refreshing after a while. These are, after all, a 13-year old girl and a 15-year old boy, and this production dares to present them—via excellent young actors channeling their inner child—as exactly that.
No, the chemistry between the couple is nothing special and, in fact, the classic love scenes really play out more like an episode of “Glee” than literate romance. The implication is clear: hormones and emotions have the better of these two, and that merely underscores what, for Sandys, is the real drama: the outer circle of their families. This approach makes up for in passion what it misses in poetry, although the passion is of the teenage angst variety. When Friar Lawrence (Phil Timberlake) kids Romeo about his previous love, you could almost believe that this Romeo is flighty enough that he could fully invest himself in each of his loves while his own romantic iron is hot before a quick comedown. We actually buy that both Romeo and Juliet will commit suicide in the show because they are tormented by ghosts of all sorts, inside and out. Sandys dares to raise the question that the couple may have had a death wish, perhaps even a death pact, with his staging. (Dennis Polkow)
At Mayslake Peabody Estate, 31st Street & Route 83, Oak Brook, (630)986-8067. Through August 7. $25-$35.