By Mari Davis • Sep 14th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Two No Gentlemen of Verona
The Rude Mechanicals
Greenbelt Arts Center, Greenbelt, MD
Through September 19th
1:50, with one intermission
Reviewed September 12th, 2009
The Rude Mechanicals tout themselves as “theater with attitude” and they certainly delivered with attitude in their presentation of
Two No Gentlemen of Verona. Gentlemen is The Rudes’ second production using an all-female cast and featured some fine performances. In this black box venue, the visual and audio elements of the production were mixed in their communicative effectiveness. Overall, I was pleased by the performance and enjoyed myself considerably.
I am a fan of minimalist theater where acting carries the production and this cast definitely delivered. Memorization and presentation were impeccable; Shakespeare is notoriously difficult for audiences to comprehend, but articulation and delivery made it understandable.
An actor’s body language is especially important when playing a character of the opposite gender. These ladies did a good job of starting in that direction, but moments of brilliance (exemplified by the perpetually awkward “man-hug” in Act I), they somehow failed to convince me of their masculine genders. I do applaud the actresses in Gentlemen for stepping up to the challenge that director Joshua Engel handed them, especially since several roles require lovers’ passion in order to be authentic.
The lead couple comprised of Proteus (Kathryn Wanschura) and Julia (Elise Berg) were engaging and charismatic. Wanschura did a fantastic job of taking her character through love-struck transformations. Berg matched the energy with her portrayal of a sweetheart determined to repossess the object of her affections.
The strength of the leads was well matched by the power of Valentine (Melissa Schick) and Silvia (Lisa Hill-Corley). Individually, Schick’s presentation was rather feminine, but when matched up with Wanschura her apparent awkwardness dissolved. Hill-Corley was a convincing, headstrong Silvia.
The supporting cast was terrific in rounding out the humor of Shakespeare’s comedy. Of special note were the volleys between Launce (Mikki Barry) and Speed (Emma Klemt), the Mafia portrayal of Antonio (Rebecca Proch) and Panthino (Melissa Robinson), and the Outlaw Stooges in Act II (Proch, Klemt, Robinson).
Calvin the Deeple starred as Crabbe the Dog and effectively stole the show. His grooming and temperament made him perfect for his role.
Sets were secondary in this production, but still left a strong impression on me. When I took my seat, I stared at a pair of white and glaringly odd changing booths. I was interested in seeing how they were utilized and was disappointed when they only figured in five minutes of the first act. They remained onstage looking white and glaringly odd until they were removed at intermission. These pieces were distracting enough that I almost tuned out the opening sequence. It would have been better if they were concealed or removed when not in use.
Other visuals were less detrimental. I enjoyed the props in Gentlemen, especially the trees and baskets used by the Outlaws. There were just enough props to set the scene and create continuity without cluttering the set. Colorful costumes went a long way to give each character a unique personality. However, it was sometimes obvious that the construction of the trousers prohibited expressive movement.
This adaptation of Gentlemen was set in the 1940s. Classic songs played before the show and during intermission. Selected songs were also played during the start of each new scene. While this was effective as a transition, even instrumental versions of songs with lyrics are distracting. In the future, I would dim the music sooner in the dialogue. The original music to Shakespeare’s “What Is Silvia?” composed by Morrigan Condo performed by Kathryn Wanschura, was uproariously funny.
Two No Gentlemen of Verona,produced with an all-female cast, was a pleasure. Lead and supporting roles came together to create a delightful theater experience. Use of costumes and props was excellent, though elements of the set left something to be desired. The Rudes created a unique experience for theater-goers familiar with Shakespeare’s classic play. I would be very willing to see this production again.
In Much Ado About Nothing, we imagined a theater troupe in World War II with its men off at war. I was captivated by the way audiences bought into the all-female cast: the illusion was very thin, but with no men on stage, it caught their imagination in moments.
I wanted to challenge the audience a bit more, and so I picked a common Shakespeare theme: the woman dressed as a man. It’s turning Shakespeare’s joke back on him, since the original actor would have actually been male. The Rudes hadn’t yet tackled Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Two Gents is much less often performed than Much Ado. Much Ado perhaps Shakespeare’s most accessible comedy. For that production I trimmed out a few misogynist moments. One such moment, where Pedro woos Beatrice on Claudio’s behalf, parallels a critical moment in the climax of Two Gentlemen, when Valentine gives away Silvia to Proteus. If I cut the misogynist moments from Two Gents, it would be a very short play indeed.
So for this production, rather than skirting Shakespeare’s less charitable moments towards women, we chose to exploit them. The 1940s setting of Much Ado marked a change in gender relations, and that suited this play as well. The men returning from war find the women changed by their time alone. “Welcome back,” they say. “But the new world is different, and this is what it used to look like.” Two Gents‘ ending is unsettling, and we’ve chosen to highlight that rather than downplay.
Rudes’ dramaturge Jaki Demarest once told me that the difference between comedy and tragedy is where you begin and end. Much Ado About Nothing parallels Othello, where an ill voice incites jealousy, but the ending is different.
Two Gents harkens to Romeo and Juliet. Romeo, like Proteus, tosses over one woman for another. But Julia, unlike Rosalind, did love Proteus, and comes to fight for him.
Romeo falls in love with Juliet at sight, as Proteus does with Silvia. Both hardly seem to know the object of their quickly-formed affection. They speak primarily of beauty, not of character or connection. For Romeo, it ended in tragedy, and it could have for Proteus as well save for the deus ex machina.
Shakespeare presents us with a much more realistic form of love in the comic sub-plot. Launce makes a list of his lover’s faults, and he seems very shallow for choosing to take her only for her money. But at least he knows her faults, and has something to praise about her other than beauty. (She brews good ale!) If Romeo had his wits about him long enough [to] appraise Juliet with the same eye, they might have lived longer. Launce’s speech is quite lurid and sexist, but at least he’s looking at something besides how lovely she is.
The play is often thought of as Shakespeare’s “bromance,” about the love between the two guys. That’s one solution [to] the play’s rather troubling conclusion: the women are assumed to take the men back despite the misbehavior because the women’s opinions simply aren’t important.
Shakespeare did this often in his comedies. Important female characters become oddly silent in the fifth act, even if they’ve been leads until then (like Viola and Isabelle). But Silvia and Julia are not to be passed off lightly: they are well-drawn, three-dimensional characters. Juliet has nearly as many lines as Romeo. Silvia and Julia aren’t graced with as many lines as the male leads, but they have scenes of their own and together that gives them a strong identity.
- Valentine: Melissa Schick
- Proteus: Kathryn Wanschura
- Speed: Emma Klemt
- Julia: Elise Berg
- Lucetta: Heather C. Jackson
- Antonio: Rebecca Proch
- Panthino:Melissa Robinson
- Silvia: Lisa Hill-Corley
- Launce: Mikki Barry
- Crabbe: Calvin the Deeple
- Thurio: Rachel Duda
- Duke: Nell Codner
- The Outlaws: Emma Klemt, Rebecca Proch, and Melissa Robinson
- Director: Joshua Engel
- Assistant Director: Morrigan Condo
- Stage Manager: Melanie Jester
- Tech Design: Erin MacDonald
- Costumes: Hopi Auerbach, Heather C. Jackson, and Linda Swann
- Music Director: Morrigan Condo
- Tech Crew: Mara McKann and Jonathan Root
- Comic Combat Consultant: Chris Davis
- Publicity: Morrigan Condo
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/4150.
Mari Davis is a student of Speech and Communication at Northern Virginia Community College. She has been involved in the performing arts since the age of five when she debuted as the Little Red Hen on an elementary school stage. Her career includes both national and international ensemble performances with semi-professional choirs, various roles in community and college musicals (both onstage and off), as well as co-directing drama camp for Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA.