Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Two Gentlemen of Verona

GLTF’s TWO GENTLEMAN OF VERONA--where is Tom Hanks when we need him?

In 1978, the Great Lakes Theater Festival produced TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, one of Shakespeare’s lesser comedies. It may be a lesser comedy, but that season a young man named Tom Hanks had his first professional starring role in the show. His Proteus, one of the two lead roles, resulted in Hanks being selected by the Cleveland Critics Circles as the best actor of the year. (I proudly cast my vote for him and have watched in pleasure as he became a megastar!)

Don’t go to see the present production of TWO GENTLEMEN expecting to see another Tom Hanks on stage, nor to see the same quality of production as was staged in Lakewood High School’s auditorium, then the home of GLSF. (The theatre later changed its name from Shakespeare Festival to Theatre Festival in order to widen its offerings.)

Not that the present production is bad, it isn’t, It’s just flat, lacking in the special dynamics, creativity and performance quality that make a show more than acceptable.

THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA is believed to be one of the Bard’s earliest works, probably penned around 1590. It may well have been his first play. Though many literature experts consider it to be a minor work, it does contain some devices that Shakespeare would later use in his other plays, including a girl dressed as a boy, the use of clownish servants, love conflicts that work themselves out in the end, infidelity, and best friends who engage in conflict. On the other hand, it pales in comparison to the style and humor level of such comedies as ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW and THE COMEDY OF ERRORS.

In Verona, Proteus and Valentine (the two gentleman of Verona) discuss the qualities of love. Valentine announces he is leaving for Milan. Valentine's servant reports to Proteus that Julia, his love, gave no response to his letter to her. At Julia's house, her servant, after some delay, gives her Proteus' letter. Although Julia tears it up and refuses to read it, she eventually pieces it together and shows her desire for Proteus. And thus we start down a path of twisted tales, true and false love, lovers thwarted, lovers united, and a happy ever after ending.

Highlights of the GLTF production include: Jodi Dominick and Sara Bruner who beautifully sang the music by Nick Drake, Ingrid Michaelson, Zion and Regina Spektor and played by Matthew Webb and Andrew Pongracz. Russell Metheny’s metal sculpture set adds an airy feel to the goings on. Lee Stark makes for a charming Julia, the beloved of Proteus. And the audience favorite, Mojo, the large shaggy dog, steals every scene in which he appears.

It is surprising that Director Charles Fee, noted for his ability to dig deep into the humor well, restrained both M. A. Taylor (Speed) and David Anthony Smith (Launce), the two servants who usually are the play’s comic reliefs. In the lead male roles, both Neil Brookshire (Valentine) and Paul Hurley (Proteus) fail to ignite the characterizations, presenting them as one dimensional beings. Nika Ericson doesn’t create a clear vision of Silvia, the beloved of Valentine. Eric Perusek (Eglamour) and Robert Williams ((Panthino) are difficult to understand and present their lines in near-monotone. We should expect better from a GLTF cast.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA may not be a great Shakespearean script, but there have been some excellent productions of the work, including a local version some years ago that was an award winner. The present TGoV misses the humor and creativity mark.