Indiana Repertory Theatre
Directed by Tim Ocel
If you breathe air, you know this story - perhaps you've seen the cartoon version with seals? This is the original Shakespeare, wrapping iambic pentameter around gorgeous romantic conceits and enough phallic humor to fill a locker room. Set beautifully in 1944 America, the Montague-Capulet feud is here fueled by racial tensions and an age-old lust for violence. Romeo is white and Juliet is black. Their kin, World War II vets Mercutio and Tybalt, are itching to fight again. Unfortunately, the lovers are no match for the fighters. As Romeo and Juliet, Erik Hellman and Claire Aubin Fort give us puppy love, while Ryan Artzberger's (Rabbit Hole
) Mercutio gives us free-flowing crudity and a rage so real it requires no explanation. Juliet's old but saucy nurse (Chicago actress Karen Aldridge) also outshines the lovers, packing punch into puns as easily as she shrouds Juliet with unconditional love. The engaging Robert Neal makes Friar Laurence a hip-nerdy priest, a dramatic chorus who both foretells the tragedy and ushers it along. Gordon R. Strain's touching backyard set portrays the possibilities of summer nights under streetlights, yet fails to create an intimate space for the lovers. Like the great playwright he interprets, director Tim Ocel marries brilliant choices with questionable ones. Can either one of them explain why Friar Laurence leaves distraught Juliet alone in a tomb with her dead husband--and a knife? The seals knew better. 635-5252, www.irtlive.com. Through February 27.