Theater Review: “Two Gentlemen of Verona”
One of the weakest of Shakespeare’s comedies, according to preeminent Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom, is Two Gentlemen of Verona. Staged at the idyllic, Tudor estate of Agecroft Hall, it is receiving its Richmond Shakespeare premiere as the second installment of the Richmond Shakespeare Festival.
The story is about Proteus (Thomas L. Cunningham) and Valentine (David Janosik)—the eponymous two gentlemen of Verona—and their love shenanigans with Julia (Laurel Maughan) and Silvia (Laura Rikard), respectively, that induce youthful idleness and romantic folly…and maybe sexual confusion.
This comedy may not be on the same level as A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Love’s Labour’s Lost, but the plot’s overt undertones of repressed bisexuality between Proteus and Valentine keeps the play moderately absorbing. Discussions around the characters’ sexual ambiguities aren’t reserved exclusively for rarefied discussions among literary academics. When I first read the written play I felt this tone set in almost immediately, and it lingers throughout the script up until the end.
Director Molly Hood, keeping the piece in homage to the era of rock and roll music and pop ballads, treats the work like a 1958 sitcom. While King Lear—the first offering of the Richmond Shakespeare Festival this summer—was classically staged, the medieval world of Lear and his three daughters are eschewed for cool cats, chickie babies, and greasers: the guys don conservative business suits with slim neckties, the gals sport cheerful polka dot dresses with petticoats, and there’s a band of forest outlaws that wear leather jackets (costume design by Virginia McConnell). A fine but familiar interpretive strategy that feels a bit too broad.
As for the comedic side, Act I feels understated, but the humor picks up in Act II. There are moments of chuckles, but King Lear, ironically, got more laughs and it’s a tragedy. The two male leads play it straight (until the end of Act II which nods its head to the script’s homosexual undercurrents) and the result is the comedy has trouble reaching the level of sidesplitting parody.
The love mischief takes place after Proteus and Valentine graduate from Verona University (set design by Richard Moxley). The mid-20th century was a time when racial integration was taking shape and society was on the verge of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, a movement that would move America away from the vestiges of heteronormative Victorian sexuality. The quartet of lovers in this production is still finding their group footing as undergraduates responding to the broader social (and repressed sexual) angst that undermined the 1950s world Hood has envisioned.
If anything, however, there’s a head-bobbing, foot-tapping “oldies but goodies” ambience to the show: there’s a band—called “The Outlaws” (Cory Dunn, who wrote the original music, and Jake Allard)—that plays off stage before the show and in Act II; Turio (Todd Patterson)—Valentine’s rival in marrying Silvia—sings about his love with poetic soul; and the play ends with a hand-jive choreographed dance routine that induced a standing ovation. If you want a night akin to a 1950s music revue, Two Gentlemen of Verona will surely satisfy.
“Two Gentlemen of Verona” runs through July 31, 2011 at Agecroft Hall as part of the Richmond Shakespeare Festival. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.richmondshakespeare.com/default.asp. Photo credit Eric Dobbs Photography.
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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