Anybody who knows theatre knows that Shakespeare is often staged in a change of setting to jazz the content and make it less strange. But Dallas Theater Center’s “Romeo and Juliet” is something else again, beginning and finishing in the green tint of an overexposed police morgue. Director Joel Ferrell takes great pains to submerge us in the seething, hormonally jolted chaos of adolescence, thrashing like a broken pendulum between frantic bliss and despair. Other teenagers occupy the stage as silent chorus or witness (ala Spring Awakening?) the costumes are contemporary, so no doublets or tights. Knives instead of swords. Perhaps one day teenage boys will find better ways to work off their head of steam.
Clearly Ferrell has shaped and streamlined this production to place our focus squarely on the predicament of the teenagers and the sad, prolonged feud that has an undeniable impact on Juliet and Romeo. Of course, love acknowledges no such hindrances (“on loves light wings have I o’erleapt these walls”) so the two are able to rise above the community’s spite, though they must wed in secret. Ferrell has quickened the pace, though sometimes the plot moves faster than others. Ironically we all envy envy Romeo and Juliet’s delirious passion, the kind that is so potent when we are younger, but it’s that very pitch and ache of yearning that drives them to leap to such fatalistic conclusions. When Romeo makes his famous speech (sadly curtailed) bidding God to direct his footsteps, we must wonder if some higher, cosmic plan intended senseless martyrdom as an object lesson to the contentious citizens of Verona.
Dallas Theater Center’s Romeo and Juliet, is exhilarating and voluptuous in its invention and re-imagining. It’s intriguing to consider the many versions of this tragedy that exist and how few of them actually function as a tour de force. Ah, love is somber, love is dangerous, love is messy, love is too exquisite for this world. It’s amusing to see Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio cutting up with their sexual banter over a game of pool or Juliet wielding a baseball bat while Romeo hops around like a feverish Peter Parker during the balcony scene. Ferrell has cooked up a tender, raucous dirge for our dark, dry, existential days of post 20th century disaffection.
Dallas Theater Center presents Romeo and Juliet, playing January 27th-February 28th, 2016. Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., Dallas, Texas 75219. 214-880-0202. www.DallasTheaterCenter.org