Four hundred years after his death, William Shakespeare remains the worldâ€™s most produced playwright. For evidence of his enduring popularity look no further than the regionâ€™s stages: there are at least five productions of the Bardâ€™s plays in the Philadelphia area this weekend alone and more than a dozen more being staged in the next few months.
Four hundred years after his death, William Shakespeare remains the worldâ€™s most produced playwright. For evidence of his enduring popularity look no further than the regionâ€™s stages: there are at least five productions of the Bardâ€™s plays in the Philadelphia area this weekend alone and more than a dozen more being staged in the next few months. There are the old standards â€” King Lear at the Peopleâ€™s Light and Theatre Company and Macbeth at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre â€” and some ambitious projects â€” Collingswood Shakespeare Company is presenting four historical plays in repertory. The most imaginative is the Ides of March production of Julius Caesar, re-envisioned in five acts by five theater companies and held at a secret location â€” instructions just say to meet at the Vine Street stop of the Broad Street Subway. These varied productions will do well to live up to the standard set by the Arden Theatre Companyâ€™s fast-paced and truly funny Romeo and Juliet, on stage through April 11.
In Pennsylvania, Romeo and Juliet marks for many the first exposure to the genius of Shakespeare. State standards mandate schools to assign the well-known tragedy to every ninth grade class and many teachers take the opportunity to bring large student groups to productions of the classic. The Ardenâ€™s production â€” under the direction of local young talent Matt Pfeiffer â€” is well-geared to a youthful audience, and weekday matinee performances are already almost completely sold out.
The story is known to all except the greenest freshmen: teenagers from two rival families fall in love but fate conspires to bring their union to disastrous ends. But just as Much Ado About Nothing is a coincidence or two away from being a tragedy, Romeo and Juliet is a fine comedy until the deaths of Romeoâ€™s friend Mercutio and Julietâ€™s cousin Tybalt â€” the scene with which Pfeiffer concludes the hilarious (though slow to get going) first act. The tragedy that unfolds in the second act is expertly built in this staging, tension heightened through short, dramatically cut scenes, none better than the split-stage manner in which the couple learns of Romeoâ€™s banishment. (This technique is less successful when Romeo is told of Julietâ€™s faked death before it is even discovered.) The fast pace and well-choreographed violence should appeal to modern theatergoers as the MTV-inspired 1990s film appeared to an early generation. They may also like (although I did not) the emotion-seeking score encroaching on some of the playâ€™s critical scenes.
Pfeifferâ€™s is most commended for the playâ€™s casting. Shawn Fagan joyously presents the playfulness of Mercutio and Evan Jonigkeit
Romeo and Juliet sees Shakespeare at his poetic best, both in language and in plot, and the Ardenâ€™s simple split level stage and talent-packed performances strip the action to its profound core. In Shakespeare, as in life, we donâ€™t always live happily ever after.
Shakespeare on stage around Philadelphia this month:
The National Constitution Center is presenting a free reading of Shakespeareâ€™s Troilus and Cressida, the poignant account of the Trojan War, on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. with the Philadelphia Artistsâ€™ Collective. Admission is FREE. The event is held in conjunction with world debut exhibition Ancient Rome & America, which is on display until August 1.
Romeo and Juliet
through April 11
The War of the Roses (Henry IV, parts 1â€“3, and Richard III)
through March 21
Collingswood Shakespeare Festival
through March 28
Peopleâ€™s Light and Theatre Company
through May 8
Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre
Love Labour’s Lost
through March 27
The Barley Sheaf Players
See theatrealliance.org/onstage for more Shakespeare shows and other upcoming Philadelphia theater productions.
Evan Jonigkeit as Romeo in Arden Theatre Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Mark Garvin.
Mahira Kakkar as Juliet and Evan Jonigkeit as Romeo in Arden Theatre Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Mark Garvin.
Frank X as Lord Montague and Krista Apple as Lady Montague in Arden Theatre Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Mark Garvin.