Thursday, August 4, 2011

"A plague on both your houses"

I went with Katie on a scouting expedition to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival at the University of Illinois at Bloomington and we saw a wonderful production of Romeo & Juliet that just took. My. Breath. Almost literally, since the perfect little theater is an outdoor venue and when the play started at seven thirty, it was still about ninety-two degrees outside.

My favorite Romeo and Juliet is still the 1996 production, directed by the genius Baz Luhrmann, and starring Leonardo di Caprio as Romeo and Claire Danes as Juliet. For all of you who wonder about Leonardo's ability to pull off a believable Romeo, just watch it, is all I can say. And Claire Danes has a way with the innocent and girlish, yet steel-spined Juliet that will break your heart and make you think back to the days of your first love, I guarantee. There are lots of stars in this production, including a sinister and scarily nasty-sexy John Leguizamo in the role of Tybalt, the Prince of Cats, but the best of them all is the above pictured Harold Pirreneau as Romeo's best friend, Mercutio. He is full of life, right up until the moment he dies.

"A plague...on both...your houses," he gasps out, clutching the mortal wound Tybalt has given him with a switchblade. He turns, dazed and disbelieving, and mutters, "They have made worm's meat of me." Then he wheels back around, summoning his remaining strength and screams in the white-hot fury of one young and dying before his time, "A PLAGUE...ON BOTH....YOUR HOUSES!"

It's one of the most arresting moments of cinema I've seen, and hands-down Shakespeare's best curse, with Caesar's ghost in Julius Caesar coming in a distant second with the ominous, "Thou shalt see me at Phillippi."

The Mercutio in the Illinois Shakespeare Festival production we just saw was very, very good (played by a young actor named Santiago Sosa) and his moment to utter is the moment I always wait for in Romeo & Juliet, one of my own personal tests by which I judge the performance, asking myself Did that raise the hairs on the back of my neck and render me momentarily incapable of inhaling?

Santiago Sosa did a creditable job, although I have to say like there's nothing better than the banshee scream under Luhrmann's direction. Yet. I'll be happy to attend as many performance as I can, so as to compare and contrast, of course. My pleasure.

Here, for your own pleasure, is the very clip I've been talking about.

(And by the way, Katie and I both agreed that the Illinois Shakespeare Festival is a very worthy off-year trip for my students and their parents, great for the summers when we aren't traveling to Ontario.)

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