One of Shakespeare's shortest comedies — full of hilarity but oft maligned because of its improbable ending — is being staged at the Players Theatre by Shakespeare Off-Broadway. TP&co, the troupe performing The Two Gentlemen of Verona under the direction of Christian Amato, has made a home for itself at the venue in the past few years with innovative, music-heavy interpretations of the Bard.
This new production is a more traditional rendering, with cast member Eric Fletcher's original music taking on a less prominent role than in other TP&co productions, and with fewer liberties with the text. The TP&co players deliver able performances in a crisp 90-minute version that captures the comedy's humor while avoiding its bothersome conclusion.
Young Valentine (Jonathan Bethea) has decided to go to Milan to complete his education while his best friend Proteus (Eric Fletcher) stays home to pine after Julia (Emily Madan). Urged to follow his friend, Proteus leaves Julia behind and heads to Milan, where he meets Silvia (Bekah Shade) and immediately falls in love with her. Valentine, however, has already claimed Silvia's heart. Fireworks ensue when Proteus unrelentingly pursues Silvia and betrays his friend in the process. A series of unlikely events precipitate an argument between the men. But immediately after heated words are exchanged, their friendship is restored and Proteus returns his heart to Julia.
Shakespeare's unedited play has often troubled modern audiences with its quick reconciliations and far-fetched ending. In this production, Valentine does not witness Proteus trying to rape Silvia and does not subsequently offer Silvia to his friend as a token of friendship and forgiveness. Amato has wisely left out this irksome passage from his lighthearted staging.
With its mélange of costumes from a variety of eras (done by company actress Brianna Hurley, who stands out for her hilarious Lucetta and Ursula) and its histrionic performances (Dominic Sellers and Tyler Nye are two over-the-top ridiculous outlaws), this Two Gents is set on keeping things fun and upbeat. Bethea and Fletcher bring high drama to their characters with purposefully excessive emoting, and Madan and Shade balance the men with more even-keeled theatrical gestures. Add to the notable mentions Speed's dog, Crab, played by Dinah, a cute pup who steals the show. Though it offers little new in the way of insightful interpretation, TP&co's Two Gentlemen of Verona is an agreeable production of one of Shakespeare's first rom-coms.
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