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Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Must-See This Summer!

Review of Flatwater Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”

By Ladd Wendelin, Star City Blog

Even the Bard had an off day.

The Riverside Shakespeare refers to The Two Gentlemen of Verona as having “the unenviable distinction of being the least loved and least regarded of Shakespeare’s comedies.” This rather frank observation was not entirely without reason. As one of Shakespeare’s first comedies, many of the themes and dramatic devices used in Two Gentlemen, including misbegotten passions, disguises, and lovelorn poetry under balconies, Shakespeare would later explore to greater effect in his more accomplished plays.

However, director Bob Hall and his seasoned ensemble cast have more than risen to the challenge to give Two Gentlemen the much needed care and attention it so richly deserves. In doing so, they have managed to not only continue Flatwater Shakespeare’s superb tradition of quality outdoor theatre, but produce quite possibly one of the best tickets during this summer theatre season – a crowd-pleasing, family-friendly show that showcases a strong diversity of local talent and the inexhaustible theatrical inventiveness of Bob Hall as a director.

While a synopsis of the somewhat convoluted plot is thankfully included in the program for reference, Two Gentlemen follows the passionate exploits of . . .two. . .gentlemen. . .of. . .Verona – the roguish Valentine (Darin Hemmer) and his bosom friend, the dashing Proteus (Gage Wallace). Proteus is head over heels for Julia (Maya Naff), while in nearby Milan, Valentine is smitten with Silvia (Petrea Whittier). In a sensational debacle of misappropriated affections, battle of the sexes, and crossed wires, Proteus falls for Silvia. At this point, Shakespeare begins to explore the limits of friendship and the conflict that occurs when romantic love supplants Platonic love. In any case, everyone eventually gets his or her just desserts during the thrilling conclusion.

“I do not seek to quench your love’s hot fire,” Lucetta tells Julia. “But to qualify the fire’s extreme rage, Lest it should burn above the bounds of reason.” Good advice often falls on deaf ears in Shakespeare’s plays, although the ensuing action is not as tragic as Lucetta might suggest. This is a comedy, after all, but as a comedy, we come to discover how sorely flawed and what pathetic romantics Valentine and Proteus truly are. And that, Shakespeare might argue, is hilarious!

Staged in the Swan Theatre at Wyuka Cemetery, it’s always refreshing to see a set that works with the architecture of an outdoor space rather than against it. This feat, designed by Richard Imig, with uneven planks of wood against the facades of the carriage house, manages to enhance the raw materials of the space while simultaneously providing plenty of world for the actors to live in. As seems to be the tradition with Flatwater Shakespeare, doublets and tights have been replaced with the sports and leisure fashion of the 1920s for Two Gentlemen.

Although set in Verona and Milan, one could easily imagine these characters trading barbs with each other on the French Riviera or on a Mediterranean retreat. The re-imagining of the setting as suggested by Janice Stauffer’s costumes only enhances Shakespeare’s language and the actor’s portrayals.

It was difficult to point out any one or two performances as standouts in Two Gentlemen since each cast member seemed to contribute invaluably to the onstage energy and spirit of the play. Darin Hemmer portrayed Valentine with zest, while Maya Naff neatly played the conflicted Julia with accomplished grace. Comedic relief from Robie Hayek as Launce and Andy Dillehay as Speed nicely balanced the hazards of love between the titular duo and their obstinate sweethearts. A string quartet provided a light-hearted soundtrack, serenading the audience while informing them of the occasional changes in setting. And Launce’s dog Crab, played with devoted craft and precision by Taz, a red Border Collie, wasn’t bad either!

The many charms, classic characters, and lyricism of Two Gentlemen are hardly deadened by Flatwater Shakespeare’s treatment, despite being the “least loved” of Shakespeare’s plays. As such, it is certainly a must-see this summer!

The Two Gentlemen of Verona plays nightly at the Swan Theatre at Wyuka, 3600 O Street in Lincoln. Performances continue Saturday-Sunday, June 12-13; and Thursday-Sunday, June 17-20 and 24-27. All show times are 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $10 for students. Call 473-2897 for reservations.

Photo: Darin Hemmer as Valentine and Petrea Whittier as Silvia in Flatwater Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Credit: John Nollendorfs).


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