By David Wilkerson
My only Love sprung from my only hate
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health
Beautiful Tyrant, fiend Angelical
Romeo & Juliet is full of dualities, contrasts, and contradictions. Its very structure is a study in contrast: The first half of the play is a wild, romantic comedy. The second part is as dark a tragedy as Shakespeare ever wrote. The people inhabiting this world are likewise multifaceted. They are loving, but sometimes hateful; wicked, but sometimes noble; innocent, but sometimes duplicitous; good-hearted, but sometimes weak--in short, human.
Chicago in the shadow of the 1893 World's Fair helps tell this story of complexities. The White City (the 1893 fairgrounds) was a staggeringly beautiful accomplishment, in the midst of the filth and poverty in the city around it. Thousands of unemployed people descended on the city looking for work. Many found it, but after the Fair closed, they were left stranded in a city that had no means to employ or care for them. This setting demonstrates the highs and lows that human beings are capable of.
Chicago politics of the time were notoriously corrupt. Politicians owned the police and judges. Votes were bought and sold on the streets, and gangs of toughs fought for control of polling stations. In staging the play, this state of affairs offered us a wonderful opportunity to augment the strong feelings that we humans have for our families with the sometimes even stronger feelings we have for our politics. If you wish to have a violent argument, attack someone's family or beliefs. By making Lord Capulet, Lord Montague, and the Prince heads of political factions, we get the best (and worst) of both of these flashpoints.
This historical setting, also provided us a touchstone that we used to guide our endeavor. From sets to costumes to music, every facet of the production has been focused through the lens of late 19th-century Chicago and the World's Fair. The music you hear is either directly from the Fair's official Song and Chorus Book or strongly inspired by it. The costumes for the Capulet's' party are inspired by the delight Chicagoans felt for these newly discovered cultures around the world they saw on the Fair's midway.
Ultimately this is the tale of two ill-fated young people who fall in love. Enjoy our story that has much to do with hate, but more with love.