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Shakespeare Dallas Proves The Two Gentlemen of Verona Worthy Of Further Revivals

Like its production of Cymbeline earlier this summer, Shakespeare Dallas has admirably tackled another rarely staged Shakespeare play with The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which plays through October 2 at the Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre before it moves to Addison Circle Park for two weeks of performances. As one of the Bard's earliest comedies, the play is often overlooked as being a minor inconsequential work. But this most recent production is thoroughly enjoyable, allowing the darker aspects of the story to emerge.
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Like its production of Cymbeline earlier this summer, Shakespeare Dallas has admirably tackled another rarely staged Shakespeare play with The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which plays through October 2 at the Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre before it moves to Addison Circle Park for two weeks of performances. As one of the Bard’s earliest comedies, the play is often overlooked as being a minor inconsequential work. But this most recent production is thoroughly enjoyable, allowing the darker aspects of the story to emerge.

As the title suggests, the play is the story of two gentlemen best friends – Valentine (Marcus Stimac) and Proteus (Alex Organ). Valentine sets out for Milan to experience the world while Proteus stays in Verona to be near the woman he loves – Julia (Jenny Ledel). In Milan, Valentine falls in love with Sylvia (Nicole Berastequi). But when Proteus goes to Milan at his father’s request he is instantly infatuated with the same Sylvia and determines to win her love. Rejecting his love for Julia, the suddenly-turned-villain Proteus manages to have Valentine banished from Milan leaving Sylvia alone. Julia, longing to see Proteus, disguises herself as Sebastian and goes to Milan. There she witnesses Proteus trying to woo Sylvia who for her part rejects his advances.

Spoiler alert: the lovers are re-united in the end. This is no great surprise in Shakespearean comedy. Yet, there is something utterly troubling about the conclusion here. Without giving too much away, just be prepared for an ending so unsatisfying, unexpected, and downright unacceptable that we are left wondering how we should feel. It is a shadow of what we see in Measure for Measure or The Merchant of Venice.

Despite the bizarre conclusion, Two Gentlemen nonetheless has potential for exciting theatre. Under the direction of Raphael Parry, the production placed in a contemporary setting zips along at a steady pace hitting all the right comic notes. There are bits of 1980s pop songs sprinkled throughout the show; Proteus even sings a version of “My Sharona” replacing Sharona with Sylvia. Don’t cringe – it’s actually hilarious. This updated interpretation does not necessarily add anything to the story, but it does not take anything away from it either, as happens so often with contemporary stagings of Shakespeare. The set, designed by Donna Marquet, is simple and sleek – a white two-story structure with forest and sky images painted on the first floor. The result: a clean minimalist set with plenty of space for the actors, and they use it well, with entrances on bikes, tractors, golf carts, and zany chases in and out of the numerous doors.

The performances are all-around first rate. Alex Organ is especially commendable as Proteus, making the transition from gentleman lover to deceiving villain quite effectively. There were audible gasps from the audience when he called Julia “swarthy” during one of his monologues in which he denounces his love for her: “I will forget that Julia is alive, remembering that my love to her is dead; and Valentine I’ll hold an enemy, aiming at Sylvia as a sweeter friend.” As often in Shakespeare, love is a fickle and dangerous thing. And this is no less true in Two Gentlemen.

The supporting cast is equally enjoyable. Randy Lee Chronister as Speed, Valentine’s servant, and Anthony L. Ramirez as Launce, Proteus’s servant, gave especially solid performances. They walked the fine line of bringing humor out of the text without hamming it up as too often happens in productions of Shakespeare’s comedies.

True, The Two Gentlemen of Verona is no Midsummer Night’s Dream, but this production proves it has enormous potential.

Image:  Portrait of William Shakespeare by Gerard Soest (Shakespeare Birthplace Trust / David Burges)

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