This tale of star-cross’d lovers is undoubtedly a wonderful play, but sometimes it feels like Nashville has overdosed on the Bard’s great tragedy. Innovative adaptations at Tennessee State University and the Tennessee Shakespeare Festival aren’t too far in the past, and here it comes again, to Shakespeare in the Park.
On the other hand, this is actually only the second mounting of the play in the history of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival — the first was a striking 2003 production under former NSF artistic director Steve Cardamone, which somehow mixed nouveau riche suburbanites and unusual costuming with youthful hip-hop camaraderie.
The story gets yet another face-lift here, under David Wilkerson’s direction: The setting is 1894 Chicago, in the wake of the 1893 World’s Fair (aka the Columbian Exposition, in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus discovering America). The late-19th century Windy City ambience should inspire talented designers June Kingsbury (costumes) and Anne Willingham (lights), and also composer Paul Carrol Binkley. The stellar cast includes Chip Arnold, Jeff Boyet, Peter Vann, Shannon Hoppe and Ben Van Diepen in key roles, with Martha Wilkinson as the Nurse. The titular lovers are Matthew Raich and Emily Landham. The NSF Apprentice Company fills out the ensemble.
There’s an Educator’s Guidebook on the NSF website, nashvilleshakes.org, which offers detailed background on the production’s themes along with informative dramaturgical notes. And, as always, there are entertaining acts opening for each performance, ranging from folk, pop, country and jazz to magic from Jason Michaels.