Dueling Critics: Double Your Critics, Double Your Shakespeare

October 1, 2010

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George Devine, a legendary leader of London's Royal Court Theater, once said, "Treat new plays like classics, and classics like new plays."
 
Two theaters in Chicago have taken that advice to heart. Chicago's Court Theatre takes an early Shakespeare comedy so over the top some say it barely resembles the original. And Chicago Shakespeare has put a new spin on everyone's favorite star-crossed lovers: Romeo and Juliet.

To find out how these fresh presentations of the Bard fare, we turn to now to our Dueling Critics, Kelly "Capulet" Kleiman and Jonathan "Montague" Abarbenal.

Romeo & Juliet, Chicago Shakespeare through Nov. 14
The Comedy of Errors, Court Theatre, through Oct. 1

Jonathan's Pick for this week:

CANDIDE, the musical with a brilliant score by Leonard Bernstein, may be the most “successful” Broadway failure of all time. Since its brief original run in 1956, it's been revived almost countless times, each time with someone taking a new whack at making a workable musical comedy story out of the original, which is Voltaire's 1759 scathingly bitter satire on religion, politics and social pretentions. This time, at the Goodman Theatre, award-winning director Mary Zimmerman takes the whack in a version that's much more true to Voltaire than any previous effort. It's clear and easy to follow as the naïve and trusting hero—Candide—ricochets from one human disaster to another across three continents, but it's also far darker and less funny than other versions. Musically, the great score is performed with gusto and style by the cast of 19, and visually the show is a treat of typical Zimmerman devices—such as the use of minatures—and lavish scenic and costume elements. This is not the CANDIDE you may remember from other productions, but it IS the CANDIDE you WILL remember. It's at the Goodman Theatre through Oct. 31.

Kelly's 2 picks for this week:

A Brief History of Helen of Troy, Midwest premiere of a play by Mark Schultz, at the Steep Theatre in Edgewater.  This makes an interesting, if unintended, companion piece to Jailbait at Profiles Theatre: each is a contemporary play about two adolescent girls and their differing approaches to their budding sexuality.  "Helen of Troy" focuses closely on one of the girls and her widowed father.  Charlotte, brilliantly played by Caroline Neff, is responding to her mother's death by acting out in a number of bizarre sexually-charged ways, while her father either doesn't notice or doesn't care.  It's a tense intermissionless work, with uniformly fine performances and an unexpected and painful denouement.  A word of warning: though I loved it, my companion loathed it and said she'd have walked out if we'd been seated less prominently.  She felt the play blamed the young woman for all the destructive things that occurred on the stage; I thought it was simply portraying someone experiencing a psychotic break under stress.  See it, and decide.  Plays through October 30 at the Steep space underneath the Berwyn Red Line stop, and the October 26 performance is free.

Daddy Long Legs a new musical at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.  I expected many things of this new musical adaptation of a once-classic children's book, but not that it would be a two-hander--that is, that the principal two actors would also be the only two actors.  The hokey but romantic story of an orphan and her benefactor who gradually fall in love through their letters features rivals for the affections of both characters, as well as disapproving teachers, schoolmates, and families; and they're evoked so vividly that it takes a while to realize that no one else will be joining Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock onstage.  I'm not sure whether Tony-winning writer-director John Caird, who earlier in his career directed behemoths like Les Miz and Nicholas Nickleby, wanted a break from casts of thousands or simply figured out that pretending they were there worked just as well as actually hiring them, but in any case he has the perfect light touch for the material.  Paul Gordon's music and lyrics are strong enough to sustain this almost-sung-through show, and McGinnis particularly does it full justice.  You know what's going to happen every second of the way, and you nonetheless hang on every word and cross your fingers it will come out all right.  Sweet without being cloying, it will remind you of the virtues of the classic American musical.  Through October 24.