Preview: Playhouse Theatre's "Romeo and Juliet"

A few years ago, while chatting with Julie Tattershall at Heller Theater (which should, btw, be close to completing its move to Henthorne Park), she mentioned she thought Tulsa had the potential to become a Midwestern theatre powerhouse, much like Kansas City or Minneapolis are considered.

I've never counted the number of theatre companies in the city and suburbs, and I'm not going to attempt to do so here for fear of leaving someone out, but there are quite a few, all of them boasting so much talent it's, well, awesome. The newest among those ranks is Playhouse Theatre, co-founded by Chris Crawford (perhaps most notorious for his riotous performances as Batboy in American Theatre Company's performances of Batboy: The Musical) and Courtneay Sanders, theatre director at Oral Roberts University. The company announced its arrival with a performance of David Schulner's An Infinite Ache last month.

Playhouse Theatre's first production of the season, Romeo and Juliet, opens Friday, Feb. 20 for a sold-out performance. Crawford directs the show, which takes an unusual approach to Shakespeare's work. Using the original text, Crawford plays with elements of space and time, pitting the actors against one another in a race to tell their stories.

They open the play as actors, he explained, and then slowly transform into their characters, "fighting time to tell their stories." While the elements of love and romance are there (it is Romeo and Juliet, after all) Crawford's artistic retelling of the tale also examines the ways in which hate and grudges are passed down to children through their families, perpetuating senseless animosity. It is a theme as old as Romeo and Juliet itself (the words "ancient grudge" ring a bell?) but also very, very current.

Hearing Crawford describe his interpretation of the play, I'm excited by his ambition and I look forward to watching the Playhouse crew pull it off. If they do, it'll be an exciting accomplishment of the company's goal to "fearlessly tell stories."

Crawford said he and Sanders, who are longtime pals, were inspired to start their own company after watching an annual production of A Christmas Carol by the Dallas Theater Center. They were moved, he said, by the fearlessness and vulnerability of the show's cast, and he hopes his company can aspire to quality of that caliber. Playhouse Theatre is a professional company, meaning all of its actors and crew are paid, which is rare in local theatre. The company is funded through private contributions and grants and hopes soon to gain some corporate backing.

I managed to snag a seat for Friday's show, but you'll have to settle for Saturday (at 8 p.m.) or Sunday (at 2 p.m.) performances in the Charles E. Norman Theatre of the Tulsa PAC. The show continues next weekend, Feb. 25-28. Click the link or call 596-7111 for tickets. And be sure to check UTW next Wednesday for a review.