It’s probably every actor’s dream to skip over what could be tedious and repetitive rehearsals and go straight to the performance. On the other hand, it’s probably every actor’s nightmare to forget one’s lines or have no idea what play they’re in.
You wouldn’t have noticed the lack of blocking. The results were… ‘miraculous.’
A bunch of young, talented and energetic actors got their first wish on August 3 when they performed in the Taffety Punk Theatre Company one-night-only production of Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona with only one rehearsal—held earlier that same day. Prior to that one rehearsal, the actors had learned their lines and gathered some props and costumes, but had experienced no blocking.
You wouldn’t have noticed the lack of blocking. The results were, as artistic director Marcus Kyd and director of the production said in his pre-performance remarks to the audience, “miraculous.”
Not only did the actors know exactly what play they were in—though the Bard may not have entirely recognized the modern dress and the go-go/break dancing and the appropriate music thrown in—but pulled it off with aplomb.
With scarcely any calls for “lines” from the prompter.
The audience members—who were every bit as responsive as Shakespeare’s groundlings were reputed to be—showed their appreciation with thunderous applause before, during, and after the performance and lots of laughter.
Not only did they get to see a terrific, memorable performance that cost nothing. It was also free of the heat and humidity that would have overcome them had this been a traditional Shakespeare in the Park production.
Possibly the Bard’s earliest play, Two Gentlemen is far from his strongest either in plotting, characterization, or language. But it is funny, and presages some of his conventions—such as a heroine dressing as a man. The play also has a perceptive thing or two to say about friendship, misogyny, betrayal, and the fickleness of lovers, especially men. Make that, only men.
And did Shakespeare invent the concept of “bromance?” In a nutshell, best friends Valentine and Proteus part ways at the beginning of the play. Valentine goes to Milan to see the world, while Proteus stays behind to woo his beloved Julia.
Just when it seems Proteus has succeeded, his father sends him to join Valentine. There Proteus, in spite of his previous passion for Julia, immediately falls in love with Sylvia, the woman Valentine already has set his sights on.
This being a romantic comedy, it all gets straightened out—with some pain along the way. And some increased self-awareness, sort of. After all, a rapidly repentant Proteus declares: “Were men but constant, they were perfect.”
Maybe not, but the performances very nearly were.
Whenever there’s a comic figure on stage in Shakespeare, he (or she) dominates the stage. That was true with Daniel Flint, who underplayed the clownish Lance, Proteus’s servant, and thus made him all the funnier.
Kudos also to Lance’s canine, Crab, who alas, was not a real dog. Esther Williamson, as Valentine’s servant, Speed, is a good foil to Flint. Kyd couldn’t have had better performers than Dan Crane and Shawn Fagan, as Valentine and Proteus, respectively.
Despite the shenanigans (like the dancing), they took the events around them and themselves completely seriously—which is what actors really should do in a comedy.
Crane was totally believable as the nobler of the “two gentlemen,” though he relished temporarily being the leader of the outlaws. Fagan, in the more difficult part because Proteus undergoes two changes that might not be credible, completely was. He is also fun when being devious.
Tonya Beckman as Sylvia kept looking as if she might give it to his wooing, but she never did. Her ire at being pursued by Proteus was delicious. Kimberly Gilbert was fine as the momentarily rejected Julia but even more comfortable in the skin of Sebastian, the young man whose identity she assumes.
Ashley Strand is hilarious as Thurio, Sylvia’s third suitor, playing him like a Russian Mafioso obsessed with his body—seen for a few moments in near-undress. Christopher Marino was properly imperious as the Duke, Sylvia’s father, who isn’t the best judge of character when it comes to her suitors.
Josh Taylor was responsible for the unexpected music and sound. Purists might have minded, but the bulk of the audience—mostly young—didn’t seem to. Paulina Guerrero choreographed the lively dancing, and played Ursula in the cast. Brittany Diliberto did the light design, and Scott Hammar was costume designer.
Taffety Punk Theatre Company aims to make theatre “exciting, meaningful, and affordable,” according to its literature. It fulfills this mission partly through the Bootleg Shakespeare productions, of which this was the ninth.
The company launched this tradition in 2007 with Cymbeline. Bootleg tends to focus on Shakespeare’s lesser-produced works. I’m sure many people are looking forward to what comes next both in Bootleg as well as other productions.
One small request for those future productions. Like other theatergoers, I’m an avid reader of theater programs, and wish there had been a more-conventional (i.e., booklet form) to find out more about the background of the players and “special teams,” as the crew was called in the program sheet.
Advisory: Just for the record, since this was a one-time-only production, it contained a little raunchiness, especially in the use of props and body movements. Probably would be best for ages 15 and up.
For information about the company and future productions—including a new play starting September 18, 2015 that’s part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival—call 202-355-9441. Or click here.