Two Gentlemen of Verona by the Actor’s Shakespeare Project

I’ll admit, I didn’t go into this performance with high expectations.  There’s a reason thatTwo Gents is rarely performed.  Act Five is a nightmare to make read to a modern audience, and the show’s protagonist is one of the least likeable characters in the canon.

 

In addition, I’ve never yet heard a good review of an ASP production.  None of my local friends (or mentors) have been impressed with their work, so I did not expect that the combination of these two deadly things would yield anything horribly impressive.

For that, Two Gents is one of my favorite shows and I’ve always wanted to see it done.  Despite myself, I was rather excited to find out what the good folks at ASP had come up with.

First things first: I know Bill Barclay’s work from his long tenure at Shakespeare & Company (some of this while I myself was there training).  The man’s a genius.  His abilities with music are unmatched and it’s always an absolute joy to watch him romp about the stage with his own one-man-band of instruments (in this show alone, you can see him play the guitar, concertina, accordion, ukulele, and harmonica along with an assortment of percussion noise-makers).  I expected the music to be outstanding.

Barclay’s performance was equally impressive.  Protheus is an extremely difficult part to pull off since it requires a wide range of emotion very quickly (he’s one of the least mature men in the canon), and the foreknowledge that the audience is going to hate you.  Barclay’s natural charm and charisma worked to offset this, and his command of the text meant that he got every ounce of emotional connection out of the role.

Unfortunately, he was in the minority.  The women onstage were less impressive – Paige Clark (Julia) went for shtick over emotion, and Miranda Craigwell (Silvia), though stunning, didn’t seem to make any acting choices at all.  Marya Lowry made an excellent gender-bent Duke (Duchess) of Milan, but her Lucetta was frantic and muddy.  This is doubly unfortunate since the women are the true heart of this show; without a deep connection to Julia, the audience has no reason to react to Protheus (though Barclay’s charisma covered a multitude of sin).

The clowning was spectacular.  Thomas Derrah as Speed and John Kuntz as Launce were precise, efficient, and uproarious.  They counter-balanced each other admirably, and entertained thoroughly.  They were aided in this endeavor by Bruno, the most well behaved dog I’ve ever seen, in the role of Crab.  To quote Geoffrey Rush as Philip Henslowe, “You see – comedy. Love, and a bit with a dog. That’s what they want”.

ASP solved the act five fireworks with a game of bardic footsie that I can only describe as “admirable”.  After menacing the outlaws, Protheus turned to Silvia, made his threat, then realized what came out of his mouth.  Disgusted with himself, he dropped his knife, fell to his knees, then wrapped his arms around Silvia’s waist in a pathetic act of self-reproach.  Enter Valentine who sees something more than what he sees (as a lover is wont to do).  For a modern audience, I think this is the only way to make the scene read if you still want to maintain any sense of empathy with Protheus in the end.  It ensures that Protheus remains redeemable without violating the text.

On the whole, this production was charming and enjoyable.  While it lacked substance and true feeling, it did have entertainment value in spades.  I would encourage you to go see it but, alas, it closes today.

ASP will be doing a production of Pericles in April that I, for one, will be extremely interested to see.