Shakespeare Theater Company The Two Gentlemen of VeronaBy Bob Ashby • Jan 24th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Shakespeare Theater Company
Lansburgh Theatre, Washington DC
Through February 29th
2:30 with one intermission
Reviewed January 22nd, 2012
In recent decades, nothing has been more traditional than updating productions of Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Productions have been set in the romantic era, the 1930s, and the 1950s; in the rural countryside, at the villa of a gangland Don, in New York, and in a TV sitcom studio; with music from 1930s, 1950s, and the rock-and-roll era. The Shakespeare Theatre’s lively and entertaining production falls comfortably within this well-established performance tradition, using present-day settings and contemporary music and technology to underline a concept of the play focusing on the impulsiveness of teenagers. The production is, in fact, one that would likely appeal even to Shakespeare-skeptical teenagers.
While the production’s experienced 20- and 30-something actors look even less like real teenagers than the cast of a typical episode of Glee, there are moments when they succeed in catching the spirit of adolescent emotions. At the end of the first half, Andrew Veenstra’s Valentine provides a moment of believable teenage romantic despair after being banished from the love of his life. Miriam Silverman’s Julia is convincingly mercurial in her early scenes with her servant Lucetta (Igna Ballard), who memorably enters singing a rock song while operating a vacuum cleaner. Silverman also is a very convincing disguised as a boy in the second half, even to the point of absorbing a punch in the nose.
The standout performances of the evening belong to the witty servants Speed (Adam Green) and Launce (Euan Morton), who have many of the play’s best lines and whose realism is a bracing counterpoint to the deceptions and over-the-top lovesickness of their masters. No review of the show would be complete without praising Oliver, the well-trained, fuzzy, and totally adorable dog playing Launce’s companion, Crab.
Shakespeare’s script describes Valentine and the male co-lead, Proteus (Nick Dillenburg), as lifelong best friends. Unfortunately, the emotional juice of this friendship never quite establishes itself, taking some of the sting from Proteus’ betrayal of Valentine. This may owe largely to Dillenburg’s frequently flat line readings and bland affect, which make it difficult to feel Proteus’ passions in this friendship, in his love for Julia, or in his pursuit of Sylvia (Natalie Mitchell). Mitchell’s portrayal of Silvia’s constancy and mature judgment make her one of the most admirable characters in the play, though perhaps the one that fits least well into the production’s teenage angst concept. Among the “adult” characters, the Duke (Brent Harris) makes a vivid impression as a Sylvia’s strong-minded, ruthlessly charming father.
The reconciliation scene at the end of the show is famously problematic, first because Valentine’s and Julia’s forgiveness of Proteus seems too quick and easy and second because Valentine appears to offer Sylvia, who he has just regained, back to Proteus. To solve the second problem, the production plays Valentine’s offer as a successful effort to prevent Proteus from shooting himself in a moment of despair, parallel to Proteus’ prevention of a similar suicide attempt by Valentine earlier in the play. The first problem proves a harder nut to crack, given that the depth of feeling between Valentine and Proteus is underdeveloped. As for Proteus and Julia, one might confidently anticipate, given the contemporary sensibility of the production, many future sessions with a couples therapist working out trust issues.
The physical production is excellent, beginning with a shiny metallic multi-level set that is used to effectively throughout, never better than in first of two well-conceived and executed fight choreography sequences. The second of these sequences is notable for its close coordination of punches with stage blood – when a fist lands, a bloody nose or mouth follows instantaneously.
Surtitles, often amusingly cheeky in tone, announce each successive scene. The pop/rock between-scene music, which fortunately never becomes overwhelming, fits the mood of the show, and the use of karaoke and open-mic bar scenes adds to the fun. The generally unobtrusive costumes are not firmly tied to any particular period, though they have elements suggestive of Elizabethan and modern dress.
By PJ Paparelli
In 2005, I had the unique experience of directing two productions in Washington back to back: Romeo and Juliet at The Folger and columbinus at Round House Theatre. columbinus was an original play that I had developed by interviewing teenagers across the country as well as Littleton, Colorado, the site of the 1999 Columbine Shootings. At the center of both stories were impulsive decisions made by adolescents in the world where adults were on the parameter of their worlds. Shakespeare’s uncanny observations on human behavior rang equally as true as the material pulled from teenagers in the interview process for columbinus. Teenagers then were very much like teenagers are now.
And now, I have come back to STC and Washington with another play about passionate, impulsive teenagers. The Two Gentlemen of Verona is immensely concerned with the transformative power of love, in good ways and bad ways. It’s also immensely concerned with young people, wealthy young people (they are “gentlemen,” after all), young people who are often ignored by adults and left to their teenage caprices. One thing I learned years ago is that teenagers always assume they hold the reigns [sic] in their lives. It comes as a sudden and devastating shock when they discover they are powerless, powerless to control another person’s actions, powerless to make someone love them. The characters make tremendous choices in this play. And there are no adults around to guide them. You may think that sounds like Romeo and Juliet – and it does.
And yet, unlike Romeo and Juliet, this play isn’t a tragedy. It’s unbelievably funny, and it has one of Shakespeare’s most famous comic monologues in it. Launce’s love for his dog, unparalleled in its comedic possibility, is yet another acute study of human behavior. As some of you may know, the relationship between pets and their owners can be mini-dramas played out in real life. Shakespeare, who observes the intensity of the friendship shared by Proteus and Valentine, is doing the same thing here. We see Launce, madly in love with his mangy mutt Crab, immersed in his wandering, whimsical, one-sided conversations. Love makes everyone in this play do crazy things.
Shakespeare’s language expresses all the broiling emotions and driving passions in this play, and so I wanted to live in that world as fully as possible. However, I couldn’t help but see today in this play. Two Gentlemen reminds me of wealthy suburban life, where parents are wrapped up in their worries about the crashing economy and teenagers are left to their own devices. Our challenge is to allow the play to exist in its period while also releasing the energy and the echoes of today’s world.
We have created a hybrid world that is complex, but ultimately timeless. The flavor of the costumes is Elizabethan, as are the class structures. There are servants and masters, rapiers and farthingales. But at the same time, product placement suggests the world that consumes modern teenagers, from McDonald’s to Trojan condoms to Apple. The images that you’ll see in the Lansburgh are fragments of the world we live in: busted up, dangerous, energetic. I want to have the teenagers of today — their recklessness, their abandon, their passions, their fun — echoing through the design and Shakespeare’s words. I am madly in love with this play, and I would love to find a way to celebrate Shakespeare’s incredibly modern and observant feel for the passions and desires of the young. You will be surprised and invigorated.
Photos by Scott Suchman
- Lucetta: Inga Ballard
- Ensemble: Aayush Chandan
- Ensemble: Jonathan W. Colby
- Proteus: Nick Dillenburg
- Outlaw: Davis Duffield
- Outlaw: Chris Genebach
- Thurio: Gene Gillette
- Speed: Adam Green
- Ensemble: Michael Gregory
- Duke of Milan: Brent Harris
- Ensemble: Aaryn Kopp
- Panthino/Host: Stephen Patrick Martin
- Ensemble: Matthew McGee
- Antonio: Christopher McHale
- Ensemble: Janel Miley
- Silvia: Natalie Mitchell
- Launce: Euan Morton
- Ensemble: Jacob Perkins
- Eglamour: Todd Scofield
- Julia: Miriam Silverman
- Valentine: Andrew Veenstra
- Ensemble: Jade Wheeler
- Director: PJ Paparelli
- Set Designer: Walt Spangler
- Costume Designer: Paul Spadone
- Lighting Designer: Howell Binkley
- Composer and Sound Designer: Fabian Obispo
- Music Director/Vocal Arranger: Jon Kalbfleisch
- Fight Director: Paul Dennhardt
- Animal Trainer: William Berloni
- Choreographer: Michael J. Bobbitt
- Voice and Text Coach: Ellen O’Brien
- Assistant Director: Gus Heagerty
- Wig Designer: Dave Bova
- New York Casting: McCorkle Casting, Ltd.
- Resident Casting Director: Daniel Neville-Rehbehn
- Literary Associate: Drew Lichtenberg
- Production Stage Manager: James Latus
- Assistant Stage Manger: Elizabeth Clewley
Disclaimer: Shakespeare Theater Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7580.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.