I was able to sneak in to see the last performance of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” this past weekend and clearly the theater-going gods were smiling on me. The temperature came down to the low 80s, I think, and there was even a light breeze. All in all, a perfect night for some outdoor theater.
I’ve mentioned that I saw “Two Gents” a dozen years or so ago, when Grant Mudge started the show with a Baywatch themed scene. It was a clever way to shore up what is one of the Bard’s shakiest plays. Director Molly Hood works a similar ploy by ostensibly setting the show in the 1950s. This strategy does provide some benefit but Ms. Hood’s best decision was the staging of Turio (Tood Patterson) and Proteus (Thomas L. Cunningham) serenading Sylvia (Laura Rikard). The scene becomes a near-perfect mix of sublime (Patterson’s velvet smooth vocals) and silly (Cunningham’s accompaniment).
The production also deserves a great deal of credit for its very briskness. To run through 5 acts of Shakespeare – with the addition of some entertaining dance bits at the beginning and the end – in just over 2 hours including intermission has to be some kind of record. It moved quickly enough to keep the 7 year old accompanying me awake, which is saying quite a lot.
But while Hood provides some great distractions, they can’t quite hide the fundamental issues with this play. Most absurd to me is the denouement when everybody’s motivations and sentiments seem to turn on a dime, allowing for the requisite happy ending. Yes, Valentine (David Janosik) embodies a near-saintly level of forgiveness and understanding about Proteus’s transgressions, but could anyone really turn the other cheek that quickly? And wouldn’t Julia (Laurel Maughan) deliver maybe a good knee to Proteus’s groin first before taking him back so magnanimously?
The cast provided some good performances but only a few really great ones, in my humble opinion. Austin Graham Seay was amusing as Speed and he has an agile physicality that serves him well. I’ll look forward to seeing him in “R&J” at Theatre VCU this coming fall. The laugh-winner award clearly goes to Jonathan Conyers who commits totally and effectively to his wacky role as sad-sack Launce. He certainly deserves props for appearing with an adorable dog on stage and not getting ignored completely.
And some sort of special award should go to Michael Brown for giving the most entertaining and original curtain speech I’ve ever heard. Could every theater employ him to do something similar for every production?
The final impression I left the show with was of a director trying valiantly to overcome some fairly endemic defects in the show. The effort produced some highly original moments and resulted in an entertaining summertime trifle. There are worse things.