Laura Rook's Juliet steals a moment with Christopher Allen's Romeo in "Short Shakespeare!"

Laura Rook's Juliet steals a moment with Christopher Allen's Romeo in "Short Shakespeare!" ( / May 20, 2012)

Few offerings in the Bard's canon seem as tailor-made for Chicago Shakespeare's youth-oriented "Short Shakespeare!" series as "Romeo and Juliet." It's about teenagers in love, sure — but the action in the original unfolds at such a swift pace that one doesn't feel cheated by the 75-minute running time in the abridged version. Indeed, as adapted and directed by Rachel Rockwell, the impetuous idealism of young love smashes up against the grown-ups' cold, transactional view of marriage with razor-sharp clarity.

There is initially a bit of a ghost-story angle — Rockwell has the two lovers deliver the prologue outlining their fate while standing on opposite sides of the stage. (The marble staircase that forms the central divide for the main stage production of "Julius Caesar" works well here in emphasizing the bloody Montague/Capulet rift.) But the morbidity that can sometimes take hold in productions of this play — especially if Romeo overplays the Gloomy Gus aspects early on — ultimately doesn't stand a chance against the amped-up passions of the teens in love. The darker side of youthful impulsiveness also comes through in the hair-trigger temper of Samuel Ashdown's Tybalt and in the lightning-fast fight scenes (well-choreographed by Matt Hawkins).

When Laura Rook's Juliet laments the "unwieldy, slow, heavy and pale as lead" nature of "old folks" such as Maureen Gallagher's choleric Nurse, we sympathize. Rook practically vibrates with her newly awakened sexual and romantic longings and like most teens, she's frustrated by oldsters who have seemingly given up on finding soul mates. Christopher Allen's Romeo also has a tuning-fork sensuality, though it doesn't register as dangerous as that of Jeb Burris' Mercutio, who, in Theresa Ham's form-fitting black leather costume, radiates a dark sardonic charm that flirts with nihilism.

Rockwell's clever use of double-casting also plays up the dualities at the heart of the story — so, for example, Lynn Robert Berg plays both Lord Montague and Romeo's "ghostly father," Friar Laurence. Kamal Angelo Bolden plays both the prince and Paris, the wealthy and self-satisfied noble whom Kurt Ehrmann's fearsome (and slightly desperate) Lord Capulet has selected for his daughter's marital merger. That Bolden's Paris clearly views Juliet as little more than a tasty morsel at his disposal (the wolfish way he caresses her face feels downright creepy) makes Rockwell's elimination of Paris' own death in the Capulet tomb easier to accept. He simply doesn't deserve any share in this tragedy, as he clearly has sided with the avaricious adults.

The fast pace and the excisions do mean that some characters don't get as much stage time, but in general, the cast makes the most of each moment. And that is part of what gives this story its enduring appeal. We of course know what will happen to the star-crossed lovers. But their raw energy and naive belief that the power of their love will cause the world to bend to their wills, rather than break them, still make us hope that maybe this time, it will work out for these crazy kids.

ctc-arts@tribune.com

When: Through March 23

Where: Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave.

Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Tickets: $16-$20 at 312-595-5600 and chicagoshakes.com