Verona. An open street. Afternoon. Or that’s what Shakespeare wrote. It was really more like Suburbia. Parking Lot. 11pm Friday night. Yeah. That’s exactly the encounter this Shakespearean comedy opens to in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona. Director PJ Paparelli presents a fusion of Elizabethan culture and modern society that blends together this comedy of excess and young love in a way that will speak to audiences, especially teenagers, on a level that communicates how the trials and tribulations of Shakespeare’s characters are not so different from our own.
Upon first seeing the setting audiences are washed in recognizable modern product icons set against shiny chrome metal. Scaffolding creates multiple levels for the actors to play upon and the rest of the set is consumed by large scraps of crinkled and dented sheet metal. Recognizable icons include Apple’s apple, a Heineken label, and many more. Julia’s bedroom has large purple Trojan Condom icon spray painted on it, and her big fluffy purple pillows also have the icon embroidered on them.
Set Designer Walt Spangler creates a modern world with an almost futuristic look to it in using such stark silver coloring set against purple and red lighting at times. Spangler in conjunction with costume designer Paul Spadone create the perfect fusion of modern and Elizabethan ideas. Spadone has clothing that might appear eccentric or new-wave if worn down the streets of New York City. But the subtle hints of cuffed sleeves and hoop-skirted gowns remind audiences that this is in fact a Shakespeare production.
The show is well met with a talented cast of actors – including four STC alumni in the leading romantic roles. This play conquers the struggles of teenage romance, friendship, and betrayal, as well as parental guidance or lack thereof and raging hormones, which incite fast-paced intimacy and high-stakes violence. When first the audience encounters Proteus (Nick Dillenburg) and Valentine (Andrew Veenstra) there is an immediate inkling that these two gentlemen are indeed good friends; almost like brothers. Dillenburg and Veenstra has a friendly chemistry between them that radiates in their gestures and fond greetings to one another. Their display of brotherly friendship does not fast fade even after Dillenburg has betrayed Veenstra’s character, unbeknownst to Valentine.
The chemistry between them bubbles into violence when Veenstra is forced to confront that betrayal; the fight scene is gory and intense, filled with rage and passion that had previously be utilized to display their care and concern for each other. Veenstra is incredibly expressive throughout the show; each emotion well played across his face and when he sings, both with Sylvia (Natalie Mitchell) in the alehouse karaoke scene and alone whilst pining for her from inside the warehouse, his voice carries feeling on every note.
Sylvia (Natalie Mitchell) and Julia (Miriam Silverman) are as opposite as night and day. While Mitchell’s character is somewhat reserved; her outbursts are poignant and her intimate scenes with Valentine are almost raunchy; exuding the epitome of hormonal teenage girl. Silverman, as Julia, on the other hand comes across as a too whiny. But in the second act Silverman redeems her performance, disguised as the servant Sebastian, and becomes a more subtle character which is enjoyable to watch. During the early scenes were Silverman plays Julia the boisterous and saucy waiting woman, Lucetta (Inga Ballard) cuts through the whining with funny lines and a well placed attitude. Ballard provides great comic relief while belting a modern tune about fool’s falling in love during her attempt to vacuum Julia’s room and she regards Julia in a condescending matter as a nursemaid would a petulant child. She is saucy and a well-cast supporting actor in this role.
The laugh out loud moments come from Launce (Euan Morton.) As a servant to Proteus (Nick Dillenburg) his role is generally comic but Morton takes things to the next level in his interaction with Crab (Oliver) his dog. Morton adapts a completely serious tone with stiff physicality while delivering a ridiculous speech regarding the dog. And the more the audience seems to laugh the more serious Morton’s performance becomes, making it that much funnier. He gazes deep into the dog’s eyes as if expecting the pup to respond and when he does not his physical depression over his rejection is hilarious. While his interactions with the other servants are entertaining Morton takes comedy to new heights with the dog.
So betray thee not thy best friend but rather invite them to see the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s modern fusion production of Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Running Time: Two and a half hours with one intermission.
Two Gentlemen of Verona plays through March 4, 2012, at The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre – 450 7th Street NW, in Washington DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 547-1122, or purchase them online.