look closely. think twice. cut once.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Margin Notes: Two Gentlemen of Verona

Zachary Fine and Andy Grotelueschen as Crab and Launce.
Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Two Gentlemen of Verona

Seen on: Saturday, 5/2/15.
My grade: B. A fun production of a bad play.

Plot and Background
Proteus and Valentine are best friends in Verona. Valentine travels to Milan and falls in love with Sylvia, who is also being pursued by Thurio. Though Proteus has pledged himself to Julia and exchanged rings with her, when he follows his friend to Milan, he too falls for Sylvia and seeks to sabotage Valentine's chances. Julia, meanwhile, because this is a Shakespearean comedy, puts on men's clothes and follow Proteus to Milan and witnesses his faithlessness. Some messed up gender politics ensue. Fiasco Theater has become known for its semi-deconstructed productions - often of Shakespeare - with minimal cast and sets, much character jumping and instrument playing, and a healthy sense of play. This production was originally produced by Folger Theatre in Washington DC last year.

What I Knew Beforehand
I haven't actually read the play, though I've certainly seen monologues performed from it. I knew some of Fiasco's work - I loved their Cymbeline and I had a mixed response to their recent Into the Woods.

Thoughts:

Play: We need to start off by acknowledging what an absolutely problematic play this is. Fiasco certainly did, with their various scholarly quotations analyzing the work included in the program. It's called Two Gentlemen of Verona, and that term for either man could be used at best with a raised eyebrow. Proteus is a bad friend and a worse boyfriend, Valentine may be a slightly better one, but he still counsels the Duke with a "No means yes" wooing tutorial, and is all too willing to hand over Sylvia to a man who, not five minutes ago, threatened to rape her. What the hell, Shakespeare? That aside, this was still a fun production, but yeah, I wasn't rooting for any characters in this mess (well, maybe Crab and Launce. But certainly none of the lovers). The play travels at a pleasantly brisk pace, transitions smoothly running over Paul Coffey's musical accompaniment, and the character shifts happening smoothly and cleanly. Chemistry between performers is strong, and there's a good deal of fun to be had. But wow, Proteus is such a dick.

Cast: Andy Grotelueschen proved once again to be Fiasco's MVP, with his performance as the clown Launce (among others). His chemistry with (spoiler?) Zachary Fine's Crab was equal parts hilarious and endearing (spoiler the second: they're the true OTP of this play, not Proteus/Julia or Valentine/Sylvia). I've realized by this point that Fiasco ensembles are always at their strongest when working all together to tell their stories (their soliloquy work is fine; their group work is what makes them an exciting and unique company), and that remains true here - whenever the group broke into song (perhaps especially the acoustic quartet on "Who is Sylvia?"), the whole show would coalesce into something purely enjoyable, and the various individual flaws of the piece or its performers would fall away.

Design: Truly a lovely design all around - the color palate of set and costume was sweet and charming and rather like a meringue - and it certainly worked hard to offset some of the crappiness of the story and characters. Derek McLane's set was simple but pleasing - whitewashed boarded floor, flanked by two long benches for the actors to sit and observe when not performing (and store various instruments, costumes, and props in their basins). Two white columns also lined the space, perhaps meant to evoke Shakespeare's theatres, and a net of crumpled letters and white flowers framed the space - walls and ceiling. Whitney Locher's costumes were all pastels and patent leather shoes, simple, flattering, and versatile (and I heard more than one audience member speaking enviously of the footwear).

***

Running: Now playing at Polonsky Shakespeare Center (Theatre For a New Audience/Fiasco Theater) - Opened: April 30, 2015. Closing: May 24, 2015
Category: straight play
Length: 2 hours, 5 minutes, including intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld
Designers:  Derek McLane (Set), Whitney Locher (Costume), Tim Cryan (Lighting), Andy Diaz (Props).
Cast: Jessie Austrian, Noah Brody, Paul L. Coffey, Zachary Fine, Andy Grotelueschen, Emily Young.

Zachary Fine, Paul L. Coffey, Noah Brody, and Andy Grotelueschen.
Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

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