Free theater is a more ancient tradition than paying for the show. The plays of Aeschylus and Euripides were staged by rich Athenians, as an offering to Dionysus and Apollo and for the glory of the polis. It was more akin to a religious worship than the way we go to see The Avengers at the multiplex. Attendance was so important that the state would pay poor people to attend.
The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC also does this, every summer now for more than a quarter-century. This year their free offering to the polis is that warhorse of high-school English class, Romeo & Juliet, and I was delighted to score tickets on line. The other way to get it is to simply show up and stand in line at the box office for tickets, which is more onerous. Email is definitely the way to go!
There are a good many film versions of this classic tragedy, but stagings are more rare. This one was great, with a late 20th-century costuming and set and some quite realistic stage combat, with switchblades rather than swords. And the crucial casting decision was made correctly. The star-crossed lovers have to look young. According to the text Juliet is 14, and Romeo is no pillar of male maturity either. The entire plot is rocket-fueled by adolescent lust and short-sightedness. If the actors look like they’re 35 it would be plain that they were lunatics and the production would collapse. When they look like they’re in their mid-teens then we can believe everything else.
But one can trust the Shakespeare Theatre Company to do this right. Like all good English majors I can recite aloud large chunks of this play, and it is an enormous pleasure to see how the text acquires meaning and vim on the stage. This work was never meant to be read. It was meant to be seen!