Shakespeare is the man of the moment on Chicago stages. But given all the "artistic license" directors indulge in when it comes to his work, you might find yourself wondering: Is the playwright rolling over in his grave or is he dancing a merry jig?
I'd wager he is dancing. The man was a master of digging into old sources and making them his own through the power of his language, the astonishing variety of his characters, and his ability to address the turbulence of his own society through indirection. And of course Shakespeare was living in what was the present for HIM, so, as Jan Kott famously noted in his 1961 classic, "Shakespeare Our Contemporary," it is the job of every director to find correspondences that can connect him to OUR time.
Consider these current Chicago productions of his work:
± "Julius Caesar" (at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre through March 24): British director Jonathan Munby often tries too hard for relevance. His production is best in its most intimate scenes. Call (312) 595-5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes,org.
± "Julius Caesar" (presented through April 20 by the Babe With Blades Theatre Company at Raven Theatre): This all-female company that "uses stage combat to place women center stage," reprises its popular take on Shakespeare's tale of power, politics and betrayal. As artistic director Leigh Barrett has said: "Sometimes, when playing these characters, we have to ask, 'How do I act this differently as a woman?' But while I wouldn't call the characters in this play 'genderless,' their sexuality is not at the center. They are politicians fighting to keep their power at a time when they're essentially losing it." Call (773) 904-0391 or visit www.babeswithblades.org.
± "Coriolanus" (a production of The Hypocrites at Chopin Theatre through April 23): War and politics, "the people" and "the family" -- they're all at play here with director Geoff Button and fight choreographer Ryan Bourque teaming to conjure a full-fledged bloodbath that engulfs the audience.
± "Measure for Measure" at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn through April 14): As you may have heard by now, director Robert Falls' gargantuan production of this play about corruption, extremism and hypocrisy is set in the down-and-out New York City of the 1970s. Call (312) 443-3800 or visit www.GoodmanTheatre.org.
± "Othello: The Remix" at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre Upstairs through April 28): This hip-hop version of the tragedy set in motion by jealousy showcases the great ingeniousness of Chicago's Q Brothers. Four terrific actors and a DJ seize hold of the retooled language and beatbox rhythms in a unique way. Call (312) 595-5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.org.
± "Red Hamlet" (a Red Theater Chicago production at Stage 773 through April 21): Written and directed by Aaron Sawyer, this take on the beleagured Danish prince merges elements of vaudeville, dance and poetry in a modern text "that remains respectful to Shakespeare's tale." I haven't seen it, but Hamlet's always worth a krone or two. Call (773) 327-5252 or visit www.stage773.com.