Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks takes 'Romeo & Juliet' apart for audiences

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 7:41 p.m.

The feud between the Capulets and the Montagues is still going strong.

Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks' production of “Romeo and Juliet” is forcing its audiences to choose which side they support.

Those arriving at one of the three Citiparks locations where Shakespeare's tragedy will be performed from Aug. 31 to Sept. 22, will be separated into groups that will follow two separate tracks as they literally follow either Romeo's or Juliet's progress through the play.

“Any time the families are separate, the scenes will happen in different parts of the stage,” says Helen Meade, the show's director. “When they are together, the audience will come together in a communal area.”

Those following Juliet will not get to witness Romeo convincing Friar Lawrence to perform a quick wedding service or killing Tybalt.

Those viewing the action from Romeo's perspective will not see Juliet and Friar Lawrence planning Juliet's fake death.

Nevertheless, Meade promises that even those seeing “Romeo and Juliet” for the first time will not be confused.

“They may not see Juliet being told she will marry Paris, but they will absolutely get the whole story,” Meade says.

“Romeo and Juliet” is one of Shakespeare's most widely known works, and even those who have never seen the play are already somewhat familiar with how events unfold, Meade says.

Meade is more concerned about adapting the play so the timing allows for scenes to flow apart and together without lags.

“I actually had to create a whole new scene for Romeo's side. I culled text from three different (Shakespeare) plays to deal with his banishment and having to be away from Juliet,” she says. “I figured it was better to pull from Shakespeare than write my own” dialogue.

Adaptation is nothing new for Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks.

The company has no fear of shaping Shakespeare's work to fit the time constraints and locations in which this rough-and-tumble company works.

The full text of “Romeo and Juliet” is one of the Elizabethan playwright's longer works. But Meade has streamlined the text to fit into a 90-minute, intermission-less running time. That running time is dictated by the lack of bathroom facilities in public parks and the casual nature of its outdoor locations.

Audience members should bring blankets or chairs, as they will move as the action roves about a section of the park. Even when scenes are unfolding, audiences are encouraged to move themselves to a better viewing point.

A typical show attracts from 200 to 300 people, Meade says. Because the productions are outside in public parks, audience size ebbs and flows as the action proceeds.

Those passing by may stop to listen for a scene or two. Some become engrossed and stay for the rest of the show while others move on.

Dogs have been known to romp across the playing area without regard to the seriousness of a scene. Small children wander off to play Frisbee on the sidelines, then return to the family blanket to watch a little more or take a nap.

That means actors work a little harder to keep the audience engaged.

“Our productions are energetic, in your face, and the performers make the language come alive in a way that even small kids get it,” says Jennifer Tober, the company's artistic director. “We often, in fact, have kids — and adults — become so involved in the action that they talk back to the actors.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808.

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