BWW Reviews: Door Shakespeare's Sensual ROMEO AND JULIET Revisits 1920's

By: Jul. 16, 2015

A few hours after their first production on a Saturday night, Door Shakespeare changes costumes, peotic canons and presents Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet at 8:30 p.m. Under the velvet moonlght of a Bailey's Harbor sky that naturally resembles the darkness that dominates much of the Bard's iconic story, the tragic play unfolds. A riveting Romeo and Juliet theatergoers will remember when the sun sets the following evening regardless of what they have ever known or seen of this production before.

Lawrence University's Björklunden Garden transforms into fair Verona where a trio of musicians--Matt Deitchman (composer), Mack Folkert and Jacob Scrimpf--begin the tale of "two houses, both alike in dignity," by playing love songs with cello, clarinet and guitar from the 1920's and then sing the familiar opening lines to the play. Clothed in bowler hats, vests, and ties complements of designer Brigid Danahy, the muscians set the tone for the play restaged in America's pre-depression days. A preriod in time when fedoras, new found feminine freedom and gangs declaring street wars, similar to the dueling Capulets and Montagues, merge with the surrealism that first appears in art. A setting for a story almost as surreal as those strange premonitions Romeo and Juliet often perceive in Shakespeare's play when they dream of their futures.

Once again, Milwaukee's Leda Hoffman refreshes a story wtih humor and dialogue spoken almost in sync with the jazz these musicians play throughout the perfformance, where the cast delivers lines resembling Langston Hughes poetry. Heather Chrisler and Steven Lee Johnson recreate the young lovers through vibrant impatience, passion and tenderness where their words sing with believabilty, whether they meet at a marvelous masque featuring some flapper flare or align to say their sorrowful goodbyes after their hasty marriage. The two sensually transform the tree house in Björklunden-- at first a balcony where the lovers secretly meet and then into the stairs that descends to the crypt where the pair tragically meets their doom.

Mark Corkins displays his considerable acting talents through Lord Capulet, Juliet's father, while Jonathan Wainwright emerges in a Mercutio whose bawdy conversation and hot temper entertain his cousins, yet wields the fate of the two lovers. In the role of Juliet's nurse, Carrie Hitchcock's humor and matronly wisdom complements Grayson Heyl's Lady Capulet, Juliet's hand-tied mother, who weeps for her daughter in parental remorse after her father tries to almost beat her into compliance for being an ungrateful daughter when she refuses to wed Paris.

Friar Lawrence comes dressed as James Pickering, a veteran of Milwaukee Repertory Theater for more than 30 years, and offers his pragmatic advise and consolation doused with humor, although his plans go awry for these two young teens. Alongsdie the major characters, a stellar cast rounds out the performance, including Carolyn Hoerdemann playing the Governor of Verona, a great gender twist, and Joe Boersma's County Paris, who also hopes to marry the fair Juliet, along with Christopher Peltier's Benvolio.

While Romeo and Juliet has been produced or played more times than there are stars in the heavens, Door Shakespeare's production captures the euphoria and emotions experienced in the 1920's during prohibition alongside the dances, dress and sharply contrastng moods similar to the frustrations and joys of a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. With the use of switchblades instead of swords, Fight Choreographer Ryan Schabach accomplishes all the deaths that occur with thrilling quickness adding to the excitement of the producition, which speeds the consequences Shakespeare's play incorporates, while the actors again create a story filled with humanity's ultimate tragedy, a parent's lack of forgiveness and understanding for their children and another person's point of view.

Why see one more production of Romeo and Juliet? Becasue Door Shakespeare under Artistic Director Amy J. Ludwigsen has assembled a spectacular cast commandeered by an up-and-coming remarkable director, Hoffmann, in a performance which will take a theatergoer's breath away. Experience first or true love lived in passion and persistence, where ultimately even youth's fresh truth was unable to prevent the destruction caused by their familes' hate. The unique musical threesome undescores the play's themes with evocative melodies the entire performance to create a Romeo and Juliet begging to be seen for the first time or once again, an incredible theatrical experience with Shakespeare to be treasured long past summer's end.

Door Shakespeare presents Romeo and Juliet at Björklunden Gardens in Bailey's Harbor through August 15. For information on performance schedules, special events including Pre Show Discussions, Family Nights, Shakespeare Study Groups, Wine Nights and the Annual Gala A Thousand Times Goodnight on August 2, please call 920.839.1500 or visit