Odd’s Bodkins’ 1590s-style Romeo and Juliet hovers between improvisation and sloppiness | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Odd’s Bodkins’ 1590s-style Romeo and Juliet hovers between improvisation and sloppiness 

The rough edges are deliberate, but they could use a little bit of smoothing.

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click to enlarge romeo_juliet-1.jpg

Nora Manca Wickman

Odd’s Bodkins’ production of the Shakespeare classic deletes the prologue and kicks off with a fight on the tight Cornservatory stage. Rapiers fly, punches are thrown, tongues are bitten. The ensuing mania is one of the few moments precisely choreographed and heavily controlled; the rest of the show leans on undefined acting choices, casual blocking, and a less-than-enthralling flat recitation of dialogue—problems that arise in the middling space between a traditional production or a fully unscripted show like the Improvised Shakespeare Company’s.

This particular retelling of Romeo and Juliet falls prey to its re-creation of what the program notes call a “Renaissance-style” process akin to the one Shakespeare’s company was known to follow when constructing a show. Two weeks before opening night and without a director, the cast begins its work, with costumes and stage design decided via consensus. The truncated, loosely structured schedule is intended to allow surprises during the performance—an unexpected reaction, an additional longing glance. Odd’s Bodkins never intended to smooth the show’s edges.

The works of Shakespeare were originally performed when scripted theater was a novelty, but in 2018 shows are required to follow unspoken guidelines. Dialogue must be understood and, unless written by David Mamet, delivered at a reasonable pace—especially when the play contains literary devices such as iambic pentameter. Lines should be memorized. Pauses are fine, and in fact manufacture tension.

In their devotion to their interpretation of Renaissance style, Odd’s Bodkins finds themselves rolling over all these hiccups. The show sits in the margins between an improvised production—where everything is a surprise—and a clean piece of scripted theater—where all the acting is on par with Miranda Bishop’s Juliet, who complements minimal stage movement with intense emotional shifts.  v

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