Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fluff Up Your Shakespeare - Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Presents "Two Gentlemen of Verona" at Boston Common

l to r - Valentine (Andrew Burnap), Proteus , (Peter Cambor), Silvia (Ellen Adair ), Thurio, (Evan Sanderson) and Ensemblein Commonwealth Shakespeare's Free Shakespeare on the Common's comedy with music "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" through July 28. Photo by Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Serious Shakespeare scholars have long derided the faults of his early comedy, "Two Gentlemen of  Verona."  While one may discern in this play scattered seedlings of linguistic and dramatic talent that would eventually flourish into the mighty oaks of "Hamlet," "Midsummer's Night Dream," "The Tempest," et al., much of this frothy comedy is a desert landscape.  So, it is no accident that Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Artistic Director, Steven Maler, has set this production of "Two Gentlemen of Verona" in the Nevada desert.  The Las Vegas of the 50's and of Sinatra's "Rat Pack" stands in for the Dukedom of Milan.  Beowulf Boritt has designed a simple yet versatile set that allows the action to move seamlessly from Verona to Milan (Las Vegas) to the outlying desert.

One of the ways to carry off a credible production of this flawed play is to ask the actors to play their roles very broadly, as caricatures and parodies of real human beings.  This approach works to some degree in this production, producing many fun moments, and a few moments of silliness and tedium.

The plot is the Shakespearean equivalent of "beach reading" - or should I say  "Las Vegas poolside reading."  Nothing deep, nothing too serious.  The usual soufflĂ© of mistaken identities, gender bending, lovers betrayed, lovers forgiven.  That really is all one needs to know about the plot to follow along and enjoy the ride.

Maler has assembled a perfectly serviceable cast, with a handful of actors who truly stand out from the crowd.  Andrew Burnap as Valentine, one of the "Two Gentleman," makes a striking first impression as he and his friend Proteus (Peter Cambor) sing "A Lot of Livin' to Do."  Here is part of Maler's conceit.  Woven into the original text are period pieces from the Rat Pack era.  In some of the songs, we hear Sinatra's voice, in others, the cast members sing live some of the old ditties from the '50's. A jazz combo does a great job of under-girding the live singing.  Under the Musical Direction of Colin Thurmond, these stalwart musicians spent part of the evening dodging raindrops in the spirit of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid!  Evan Allen (Piano), Henry Fraser (Bass), Nick Neuburg (Drums) and Jake Novak (Trombone) are to be commended for their pluck and their musicianship.

Valentine falls in love "at first sight" with statuesque lounge singer Silvia, played winsomely by Ellen Adair.  It is believable that the young swain would be smitten by her platinum blonde beauty.  Proteus, upon arriving in Milan to join his friend, Valentine, also falls for Silvia.  The erstwhile bosom buddies are now rivals for her hand, along with hapless Thurio (Evan Anderson), who has been bespoke for Silvia by her father, the Duke of Milan (Rick Park).  Park plays the role in stylized Godfather fashion.  In keeping with the overall parody feel of this piece, I would have wished for a little more over-the-top Tony Soprano effect, but perhaps I quibble too much here.  Park did a fine job.

Valentine and Proteus each have servants who serve as comic relief, as is often the case when the Bard concocts a tale.  Boston stage veteran, Remo Airaldi is entertaining as Speed, sometimes seeming to channel Lou Costello in his comic turns.  Larry Coen is Launce, who with his faithful dog, plays the role of stand-up comic, buying time for the rest of the cast to catch their breath.  Julia (Jenna Augen) is initially the love interest of Proteus, but he throws her over when he decides to woo Silvia.  In a thankless and poorly written role, Augen does good work playing the dual roles of Julia and a bellhop in disguise as she goes undercover to find out what is going on with Proteus.

The pace of the piece becomes almost breakneck in the final few scenes.  It feels as if the horse can sense the barn just around the corner and is galloping to whatever denouement awaits.  There are chases in the desert using the many doors and windows of  Boritt's set that reminded me of a scene from "Noises Off."  The line between good-natured fun and silliness is thin indeed, and at times, this production strayed over that threadlike line once too often.

On the whole, it was a fun evening of good clean fun.  A little culture - a little laughter - some good music.  Boston is blessed to have an institution like Commonwealth Shakespeare Company that has provided us with free Shakespeare in Boston Common each summer  since 1996.  The company and this production are worthy of our support.  Come out to The Common between now and July 28, and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare"!



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Set Designer, Beowulf Boritt

Sound Designer, J Hagenbuckle

Lighting Designer, Eric Southern

Costume Designer, Nancy Leary

Music Director, Colin Thurmond

Choreographer, Yo-el Cassell


This summer for our 18th season of Free Shakespeare on the Common, we are pleased to present the comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona. This production is proudly dedicated to Mayor Thomas and First Lady Angela Menino in recognition of their many years of supporting and championing CSC's work.

"Two Gents" tells the tale of two friends who leave their hometown of Verona to find their happy fortunes in Milan. Instead, they find temptation, trickery, and trouble as they vie for favor with the high-society Duke... and his debutante daughter. All are drawn into a web of disguise and secrecy where the last thing anyone wants is for the truth to surface -- least of all the dog.

Inspired by Rat Pack-era Vegas -- the glamor, the hedonism, and the morning after agonies -- the production brings new meaning to the line "what happens in Milan, stays in Milan..."




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