Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of Shakespeare's earlier plays and far from his greatest, yet one can see in it the beginnings of the formula that Shakespeare perfected in his later comedies. There's a love triangle, a woman disguised as a man, lost lovers, and a buncha guys in tights. Actually in Theatre Ten Ten's production, there were no men in tights -- it was set in New York City in the 1950s.
Although director Tom Rowan helmed the show capably, the need for setting the play in 1950s New York was never established. The timeless theme of stealing your buddy's girlfriend could happen anywhere in any century; and certainly 17-century Verona would do.
The anachronistic setting was conveyed with cheesy sets (by Julia Renton) depicting a couple of New York City landmarks and soda-shop-style furniture. More effective indications of the time period were the fabulous costumes (by Joanne Haas). At times the anachronism provided amusements, such as a Brooklyn gangster accent on the villainous Duke of Milan (Joseph Piaspia), and a brilliant doo-wop song in iambic pentameter, but more often than not the change in time and location proved to be a distraction.
Despite the anachronistic annoyances, Theatre Ten Ten produced the play well, sidestepping the script's weaknesses and playing up its strengths. Gentlemen... is full of wacky servants and silly humor intended for Elizabethan groundlings, and the cast completely hammed it up in these scenes. Noteworthy among the clowns were Brian Houtz and Bryan Black, with honorable mentions to Roseanne Benjamin, who spent most of the play silent in a dog suit.
The play also has the requisite Shakespearean young lovers and mismatched couples. Proteus (Brian Voelcker) spurns Julia (Carolyn Ratteray) for Sylvia (Margot White), who is also pursued by Thurio (Neal Utterback) and Valentine (Nate Clark). The much-pursued Margot White (Sylvia) was so fair she seemed built in a laboratory for the sole purpose of playing maidens. Voelcker as the villainous and enamored Proteus was simply wonderful. With his biker jacket, dark eyes, and cleft chin Voelcker seemed to have been built in the same lab just to play villains. He handled Proteus's contrived redemption at the end of the play without difficulty. A feat not for lesser actors.
The soundtrack was composed of '50s songs compiled by Jason Wynn, who was also responsible for the aforementioned hilarious doo-wop version of "Who is Sylvia?". The action was not confined to the stage, and characters often interacted with the audience. The lighting during these interactive scenes (by Bradford Lowery) was far too bright, illuminating half the audience as well as the actors standing near the front row.
One more thing. This show had the best curtain call EVER! Possibly the most entertaining moment of the evening, the curtain call let every actor preen for the audience with their own personal theme music and '50s style dance solo (choreographed by Don Bill).
(Also features Samara Abrams, Tim McMurray, and Gael Schaefer.)
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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby