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The Two Gentlemen of Verona

a Comedy
CATEGORY : COMEDY
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 4093

SHOWING : August 06, 2011 - September 30, 2011

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Join us for the first comedy Shakespeare ever wrote. Watch and laugh as close friends Valentine and Proteus both pursue the Duke of Milan's beautiful daughter, Sylvia. See how Crab, "the sourest-natured dog that lives", provides one of the first examples of the animal stealing the show.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Laura Cole
Costume Designer Anne Carole Butler
Stage Manager Cindy Kearns
Assistant Stage Manager Deborah McGriff
Lighting Designer Mary Ruth Ralston
Lucetta (Julia's waiting-woman)/Outlaw/M Becky Cormier
Speed (Valentine's Servant)/Sir Eglamour Matt Felten
Proteus, a Gentleman from Verona Jonathan Horne
Antonio (Proteus' Father)/Duke of Milan/ Doug Kaye
Silvia, the Duke's daughter Kati Grace Morton
Sir Thurio Matt Nitchie
Launce (Proteus' servant) Daniel Parvis
Julia, a lady of Verona Amee Vyas
Outlaw/Musician Clarke Weigle
Valentine, a Gentleman from Verona Kenneth Wigley
Panthino (Antonio's Servant)/Host/Outlaw Troy Willis
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REVIEWS

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Tyro Will
by Dedalus
Monday, September 26, 2011
4.0
So, having reached its goal of being the first American company to produce the entire Shakespearean canon, The Shakespeare Tavern has decided NOT to rest on its whew-we-did-it laurels, but to launch an even more ambitious project – “The Evolution Series.” In one season, they plan on producing all the Shakespearean comedies in the order they were written, letting us experience first-hand the development of the genius that was Shakespeare. To quote the company’s PR release (by Kristin Hall):

The Shakespeare Evolution Series in its current form contains three or four phases based on play genre, rather than simply working its way through Shakespeare’s plays one by one. First up the company will perform all of Shakespeare’s comedies in their order of composition, moving then to the tragedies to trace how the Bard’s tragic style developed, next showing how he combined both styles in his late ‘tragicomic’ romances (including The Tempest) and hopefully, if scheduling and finances allow, eventually ending with an extravaganza of Shakespeare’s history plays. But this ordering system doesn’t mean that audiences will have to cry through the entire second round after laughing through the first. The company hopes to sprinkle plays from different genres alongside each production—for instance, giving audiences a few chances to see the comedy As You Like It, supposedly written the same year as the tragedy Julius Caesar, during the tragedy’s run.

As a confirmed Bardophile of many decades, I can only applaud this plan. Personally, I’d like to see some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries’ works just to give some perspective on what theatrical influences affected his work. After all, Shakespeare’s theatre didn’t exist in a vacuum – he was just one of many actor/playwrights working in London.

Still, I look forward to seeing the entire canon again (and again (and again)).

So, Two Gentlemen of Verona! What does this production tell us about the tyro bard, the genius that will be? Just to recap the plot (from The Pocket Companion to Shakespeare by J C Trewin):

Valentine, seeking to be “tutor’d in the world,” goes with his servant Speed from Verona to Milan, saying goodbye to his friend Proteus. Presently, Proteus, enamored to Julia (as she is of him), is also ordered by his father to leave for Milan. There Valentine falls in love with the Duke’s daughter, Silvia; when Proteus arrives they tell him that because the Duke prefers a wealthier suitor, Thurio, they propose to elope. Proteus, himself infatuated with Silvia, informs the Duke.

What happens next, I’ll leave for you to discover.

The first thing that’s obvious as that even here, Shakespeare uses most of the plot devices that inform almost all of his comedies – Lust overcoming true love (for a bit), betrayal and reversal, women disguised as men (a natural device since women were not allowed on the Elizabethan stage), servants “tweaking” their masters, fathers making arbitrary decisions regarding their daughters’ marriage prospects, high-brow angst and low-brow buffoonery (even, with the character of Sir Eglamour, high-brow buffoonery).

One thing to note here is that one of our heroes, Proteus, acts in a way that is despicable and cruel. He betrays his best friend and his “true love.” He abandons his principles at the mere sight of a pretty face – “lust at first sight” totally apart from any true knowledge (or even acquaintance) of the object of his new desire. And yet, we can’t help but NOT dislike him. He jumps through pretzel-logic hoops to rationalize his choices and his actions, but, in Jonathan Horne’s capable performance, leaves him with a bucketful of charm that makes his ultimate forgiveness by Valentine and Julia, (not to mention us) fully inevitable. Already, Shakespeare shows himself capable of creating well-defined characters who retain an audience’s sympathy despite their unsympathetic actions. You could almost say that that Proteus lays the groundwork for such future characters as Edmund, Iago, MacBeth, Claudius, and, especially, Richard III – villains we can’t help but like.

Another thing to note is how fully dimensional his women are. True, Silvia is dismissed by many scholars as nothing but a pretty face, a “hollow” character whose only purpose is to move the plot. But, take note of how steadfast she is in her affection for Valentine and her disdain for Proteus. Take note of how she defies her father at every turn. This is a fully-formed woman, fully deserving of Valentine’s love (and even Proteus’ lust). And Julia is a remarkable creation, totally unlike any other woman in the canon. When we first meet her, she is a comic whirlwind, letting her insecurities capriciously bounce her from one action to regret to reaction to still more regret. Yet, when she finally settles on Proteus, she is relentless in her pursuit, in her trust of him despite his actions. When you compare Silvia and Julia with the so-called heroines of Marlowe, Jonson, and Middleton, it’s easy to see that Shakespeare, from the start, was light years ahead of his contemporaries.

True, there are some immaturities in this play. This is the only time Shakespeare wrote a major role for a dog (and kudos to male-impersonating Sandy as Crab, as nuanced a canine as one could wish for). Some of the humor is less than subtle, and some of the language sing-song doggerel Of course it’s doggerel! What do you expect with a canine in the cast!

Still, I have to admire this production as a whole. It’s filled with laughter and emotion and suspense and it’s plain to see that Shakespeare’s “muse of fire” is on high flame and full throttle. The performances by the Tavern troupe are uniformly admirable, especially the aforementioned Mr. Horne and his eponymous partner Kenneth Wigley (Valentine), the women (Amee Vyas as Julia and Kati Grace Morton as Silvia), and the servants (Matt Felton as Speed and Daniel Parvis as Launce). The ensemble work is top-notch and Laura Cole directs the whole thing with her usual flair for comedy and language.

So, I applaud the Tavern’s ambitious new Evolution series, I congratulate them on a marvelous first production, and I close by describing why I enjoy visiting tavern itself, using Valentine’s final words: “One feast, one house, one mutual happiness.”

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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With friends like this, who needs enemies?
by Lady Mac
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
4.0
The Shakespeare Tavern begins its “year of the comedy” at … the beginning. This comedy, Shakespeare’s first, is by no means his best, but it isn’t his worst, either. And it sets up some of his favorite techniques that many future comedies recycle. (Does a woman in drag wooing another woman on behalf of the man she herself adores sound familiar?)

The play centers on Proteus and Valentine, the titular “gentlemen.” The casting of these two leads is another fine example of the Tavern’s apprenticeship program and its remarkable ability to discover, develop -- or both -- talented young actors. Jonathan Horne and Kenneth Wigley are both fairly recent graduates of the program (if indeed, Wigley even has graduated yet from the apprenticeship program – or high school). Horne recently has proven himself in significant roles (and is destined for more, as indicated by promotional photos of upcoming comedies), but Wigley has been cast in purely background roles to this point. Both do a fine job, even though it’s a little tough to buy that they are contemporaries (see previous allusion to Wigley’s very youthful appearance). Kudos to the Tavern for exposing Atlanta audiences to more and more promising young actors.

So, the plot: Proteus declares undying love for Julia, while Valentine eschews romance forever. Then, of course, falls in love. Eventually his best friend shows up and meets the object of Valentine’s affection, and … Well, you see where this is going. Shakespeare had about as much faith in men’s fidelity and honesty sometimes as many modern women have. And he seems to have had astonishingly high expectations for women’s capacity to forgive the men they love for ANYTHING. (It’s fun to imagine these situations if they were to be discussed on “The View,” say.)

Actually, the main characters are the least funny and entertaining of the play, as you may have guessed. The real laughs come not from “gentlemen” but from the lower classes, in the form of two saucy servants portrayed by Daniel Parvis and Matt Felten. Their back-talk would have gotten them beaten or worse if they had served Petruchio in “Taming of the Shrew,” but, fortunately, these young guys are far more laid-back masters, and the servants’ sarcasm and wit are allowed to flourish.

Parvis and Felten probably could perform these types of roles masterfully in their sleep by this point, but Parvis in this one faces the ultimate test for a performer: He shares the stage with a dog. There’s a reason for the adage that it’s treacherous to act against animals and children, and Sandy the adorable (and amazingly sedate) four-legged co-star manages, with very little effort, to upstage all the humans. And, in true Shakespearean gender-bending style, she is challenged to portray a male dog, Crab. She sails through her scenes with a subtle, nuanced performance and a high level of tolerance.

Shakespeare’s female characters in this play are not his strongest or best. In addition to their saintly and doormat-like ability to forgive, they have an apparent addiction to mind games, bizarre mood swings and strange behavior. Julia is particularly capricious, even when no one is watching, in the early scenes but transforms into martyr after finally making up her mind about whether she loves Proteus. Silvia is defined pretty exclusively by her righteousness and dedication to her man, but her supposed wisdom becomes tough to believe when she chooses a pompous buffoon to guide her on a dangerous journey to find her exiled paramour. (Whether this character’s ridiculousness is defined by the text or is a matter of director’s or actor’s interpretation is not clear to me, but it undermined the play’s ongoing effort to establish Silvia as the paragon of all women, worthy of the dutiful worship of three men.)

The Shakespeare Tavern can coax the humor out of just about anything and does pull off some very funny scenes with “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” But it’s important to remember one thing as you watch this early comedy: Shakespeare was just getting started! And, fortunately, so is the Tavern’s season of comedy.
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