Folger Theatre The Two Gentlemen of VeronaBy David Siegel • Apr 24th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Folger Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Folger Elizabethan Theatre, Washington DC
Through May 25th
2:15 with intermission
$30-$72 (Plus Fees)
Reviewed April 20th, 2014
The New York-based Fiasco Theater’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona currently at the Folger is just great fun.
From the moment the audience enters the theater, they are met by a frisky, spirited cast out to romance them as if a groundling watching Two Gents for the very first time; without a clue of what to expect. The six member cast flirts with the audience easily, even sitting on the edge of the stage to reduce audience defenses. Then the show is ready to begin.
Quickly from the moment some notes of music are heard, the Folger space is charged up, full of life with a come-hither casualness.
Now, I have used the title phrase “Two Gents” deliberately. The Fiasco cast and overall production gives off a sense of familiarity and unstuffiness. The Bard’s words are there. His characters and all their flaws are present too. Just that there is a friendliness to the production, rather than a rigid sense of distance. The evening felt like good friends putting on a play just for me like a special birthday present or a wedding gift for my wife and me.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona remains what Shakespeare wrote. It is centered on two male best friends forever, Valentine (Zachary Fine) and Proteus (Noah Brody). These two gentlemen from Verona have traveled to Milan to learn more about the world. This being a Shakespearean comedy, they also learn of the opposite sex as well. In Milan, they both come to fall in love with the same woman, Sylvia (Emily Young).
But, our dear Proteus has all too quickly forgotten the woman he loved in Verona; Julia (Jessie Austrian) a well brought-up coy maiden. “So, the remembrance of my former love is by a newer object quite forgotten.” Yuck, what a cad. Julia is well served by a very street smart maid named Lucetta (Emily Young, double cast) who helps her cope. There is also the usual rough-hued humor in the show in the guise of Lance (Andy Grotelueschen) , a clownish servant and his faithful, ever amusing, scene-stealing dog Crab (Zachary Fine, double-cast). There is also another man-servant Speed (Paul L. Coffey) who your reviewer will quote from later.
There is plenty of adversity: a strong-willed father (Andy Grotelueschen, double cast), a loser of a suitor (Paul L. Coffey, double cast), wayward outlaws, disguised identities and the cross-dressing of Julia to become a page-boy as she checks up on her old lover-boy Proteus. But even with a scene of a brutal nature and these words spoken by Proteus to Sylvia, “I’ll force thee yield to my desire” comes almost immediate forgiveness and shifting affections.
Somehow, true love prevails. The best male friends forever Valentine and Proteus reconcile and marriages are to take place between Valentine and Sylvia as well as inexplicably between Proteus and Julia.
Under the co-direction of Fiasco company artistic directors and founders Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld the overall production is full of life and talent. In its modern setting, The Two Gentlemen of Verona production and cast come off as a close-knit family; not just a professional acting company. They give off vibes of loving what they are doing. There is a bounce in the fluid movements of each of them. The co-directors have the cast members always in sight, even when not “on stage” they sit around the edges to be seen, sometimes egging on their compatriots. The cast also brings music to the production playing guitar, lute, whistle and stringed bass at various times.
Each of the actors brings something modern and special to their characters in Two Gents. Young is simply so very frisky, yet you know she is steadfast. She is the kind of person, you go out for a drink and stay to throw darts and laugh, beer in hand. Austrian is the great sport who will do anything to try to make you smile, a kind of womanly John Belushi, but be careful, she has an easily lit fuse and hidden temper. Fine is the wing-man, always there, always trusted to get someone out of jam. He is the guy to be with when life is a mess, since he will impersonate a dog and lick your face until you cry happy tears. Grotelueschen is the one who makes sure the refrigerator is stocked with everyone’s favorite foods and then ends up driving someone home because he is just such a decent guy and under-appreciated. And Brody? Well he is the one who walks in anywhere; and everyone, male and female just stop in midair to gaze and drink him in. But, there is something about him, that causes the young women in the crowd to be on guard…yup not quite trustworthy. As for marriage, really?
Four-time Helen Hayes awardee James Kronzer’s setting for Two Gents at the Folger is spare, with a feeling like a Frank Lloyd Wright house living room. There is a wooden floor buffed to perfection, some wooden chairs and props such a dusty pink and lavender paper lanterns and the audience imagination. The lighting by Tim Cryan is gives off a summery pink tint to accentuate the cream-colored scheme for the costumes; ivory lace for the women, and suits of various shades of autumn wheat and light beige for the men.
A bit of history for the new-in-town Fiasco Theater. It is an ensemble theater company created by graduates of the Brown University/Trinity Rep M.F.A. acting program. According to Fiasco marketing materials the word “fiasco” was first used to describe commedia dell’arte performances that went wrong. The company believes “that only when artists are brave enough to risk a fiasco can they create the possibility of something special. They chose the name Fiasco to remind themselves to brave the huge leaps in the hopes of discovering huge rewards.”
Simply stated, The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a cunning delight. It gives off a fresh perspective, pacing and tone, rather than deep new insights. Makes your reviewer want to know what is next in store for the Fiasco folk, especially as they may grow and, oh gosh, that word, mature.
And finally as your reviewer often does with a Bard work, to end with this from The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Speed: If you love her, you cannot see her. Valentine: Why? Speed: Because love is blind.
Photos by Jeff Malet
- Julia: Jessie Austrian
- Proteus: Noah Brody
- Speed/Thurio: Paul L. Coffey
- Valentine: Zachary Fine
- Lance/Duke: Andy Grotelueschen
- Lucetta/Sylvia: Emily Young
Artistic and Design Team
- Janet Alexander Griffin; Folger Theatre Artistic Producer
- Folger Theatre Assistant Artistic Producer: Beth Emelson
- Fiasco Theater Associate Producer: Michael Francis
- Co-Director: Jessie Austrian
- Co-Director: Ben Steinfeld
- Scenic Designer: Jim Kronzer
- Costume Designer: Whitney Locher
- Lighting Designer: Tim Cryan
- Production Stage Manager: Shane Schnetzler
- Assistant Technical Director: Rebekah Sheffer
- Programs Assistant: Katharine Pitt
- Flight Choreographer: Noah Brody
- Assistant Scenic Designer: Jeremy W. Foil
- Props Designer: Travis Bell
- Wardrobe Head: Edwin Schiff
- Master Electrician: Karen Mayhew
- Light Board Operator: John Rose-Caron
- Production Assistant: James Kramer
Disclaimer: Folger Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10356.
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.