BWW Reviews: Off The Wall Theatre Retells Shakespeare's Ageless Romeo and Juliet
Milwaukee's tiny black box Off the Wall Theatre seats approximately 40 people for their innovative production of William Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet (R&J). While small in size, the theatre company offers huge rewards for anyone who attends their performances. The company's Artistic Director Dale Gutzman continually probes the intricacies of theater, often reinventing timeless stories including the classics, into avant garde productions on a miniscule budget that his audiences marvel at while revitalizing a play's evocative power.
This proves true in his recent production of Romeo and Juliet, where audiences watch how this timeless story transforms the young lovers into mature lovers, with few traces of actual ageism. Gutzman and one of his favorite acting partners Marilyn White could be called mature. Yet, the two develop and embody the essence, the wonder inherent in new romantic love that clearly distinguishes this production from otherss seen countless times.
While the lovers' story still begins in Verona, Italy, a mid 20th century retirement home for actors stages the production together with the assorted family, friends and staff. Amid wheelchairs and hospital beds, where an iron railing separating two steps transports Juliet to her balcony, Shakespeare's story unfolds between the two star crossed lovers and accomplished actors effortlessly.
Gutzman and White romp in jeans and leather jackets, although Juliet wears the occasional white nightgown, while the supporting cast's costumes give touches of vibrant Mediterranean color to the stage. David Flores covered in nun's garb inhabits Juliet's Nurse with confidence and humor, a delight to watch as "she" advises and consoles Juliet.
Actor Jeremy C. Welter adds considerably to the performance playing a heartfelt and sincere Friar Lawrence, who aids the two lovers in their distress and aches with their ultimate demise. Nathan Danzer's Benvolio, Jason Will's Mercutio and Max Williamson's Tybalt give Romeo his faithful due, all actors much younger than Gutzman's Romeo, to complete the feuding in Shakespeare's story of families undone by hate.
For someone approaching or near Gutzman's and White's age sitting in the audience, the mature actor's breathe experienced passion into the performance. Love knows no age, no boundaries, boundaries meant to be broken by the heart's ability to give and receive love, in sickness and health, rich or poor, young or old. Which perhaps generates complex meaning to the adage love is better the second time around, or the best is yet to come. Even when ill fated, when death knocks voraciously at the door, closer than ever when the birthdays tick the years at 50, 60 or 70.
Contemporary stories relate that older lovers often encounter family resistance to marrying, for inheritances that might be lost, unacceptable living arrangements or as they are told, how ridiculous is that they could love, wish to marry again. In fact, a very young friend shamelessly thought the romance in Nancy Meyers' popular 2003 movie Something's Gotta Give starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson playing the amourous leads. was "kind of creepy." Instead of being "creepy," perhaps the rebirth of love after a long draught has even more emotional impact because the lovers know actaul loss, and the joy of that loss finally restored.
Another daughter recently reported that her mother, in a declining state of memory loss, was placed in an assisted living home. Still beautiful even in her 80's, her mother was the picture of health, her youth revived, when attended to by the affection of two men also placed at the home. All three were giving and receiving the most crucial gift at any age, love. The daughter admitted her mother appeared happier than she had seen her in years.
Who knows how and when love enters someone's life? Gutzman fearlessly states in his director's notes that in this production he questions what is worth dying for, taking chances on, breaking the cultural and social boundaries for in an attempt to attain a more magical world: Adventure, art, family, love---in any and all forms?
What intriguing possibilities open up to those individuals ready to move past preconceived ideas of what theater, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare, art and love "should" be. Gutzmann and his Off the Wall Theatre company push those rational boundaries back, cracking open the soul of these stories, and lead their audience into the unexpected, a provocative experience worth contemplating long after walking out the door.
Off the Wall Theatre presents William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet through April 6. Their next production Giovanni: The World's Greatest Lover? opens May 15 and runs through May 25. For information or tickets, please call 414.434.3874 or www.offthewalltheatre.com