Don’t usually think of “Romeo and Juliet” as a light comic romp?
That’s no surprise, given the downbeat ending, but it’s not such a far-fetched idea according to Muse of Fire Artistic Director Jemma Alix Levy. She sees it as a comedy, essentially, not so different from Shakespeare’s other light romances, that takes a final, very tragic turn. Her company will be testing her interpretation with free performances in Evanston through Sept. 7.
“In Shakespeare’s comedies, millions of little things are always going wrong, but something always comes in and turns them around,” Levy said. “And that’s what happens in ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
“Even after Tybalt is killed in the third act and it starts to seem like a tragedy, somebody constantly comes in with a little twist to make things work out — right up to the very last moment. That’s the difference. In the comedies, the last one gets turned around too. But in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ it doesn’t.”
Posing subtle challenges to traditional interpretations of Shakespeare is a specialty of Muse of Fire, which has been staging free outdoor summer productions in Evanston for the past five years.
For example, Levy said, the company’s production of “Taming of the Shrew” sidestepped modern feminist concerns about its misogyny and embraced it whole-heartedly as a love story while altering the context of its more inflammatory passages. And her take on “Julius Caesar” placed more emphasis on male friendships than politics and war.
“I don’t go into a production thinking, ‘Everyone does it this way, so I’m going to do it some other way,’” Levy explained. “That wouldn’t be true to the play. However, I do disregard other people’s interpretations so I can be open to the story it’s telling me. Because that’s the story I want to tell.”
That approach that has worked well for Muse of Fire so far. This summer, Muse is presenting two productions instead of one and adding indoor performances for the first time. In July, the company staged a one-hour, family-friendly version of “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” which also toured to local retirement homes. Its “Romeo and Juliet” will be performed five evenings at the Evanston Public Library in addition to outdoor shows at Ingraham Park.
“People have been asking us for more and that’s exciting,” Levy said. “There’s something about having a season as opposed to a show that feels a little more solid. And it’s another way to fulfill our mission, which is to make what we do accessible to everyone.”
‘Romeo and Juliet’
Presented by Muse of Fire
At: Ingraham Park behind the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., Evanston
3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays Aug. 9-17, 30-31 and Sept. 6-7
At: Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave.
7:30 p.m. Aug. 22-24 and 29-30
Admission free at both venues