Maggie Lou Rader & Megan Massie in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Photo courtesy KY Shakespeare.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Matt Wallace
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
It is quickly becoming local folklore around the arts community of Louisville that Matt Wallace may have some wizard-like powers when it comes to curtailing the temperament of Mother Nature. On what was looking to be a wash-out evening for Shakespeare in the Park, the skies cleared and the temperatures became comfortable, just as the opening entertainment took the stage on the opening night of Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the first play of Kentucky Shakespeare’s 52nd season.
Another talent of Mr. Wallace is that he knows how to revitalize a great Shakespearean play. Such is the case of Two Gentlemen as Mr. Wallace and his talented troupe of actors and production team set the story in 1919, right after World War I, when the world was healing and men and women were rebuilding relationships.
As the curtain (as it were) rises on the stage it is fitted with a Gramophone that is being cranked to play “I’m Gonna Pin My Medal on the Girl I Left Behind”; one by one actors enter singing and hang a banner that says, “Welcome Home”. With costumes expertly curated by Donna Lawrence-Downs and choreography by Barb Cullen, the entire opening looked like something straight out of a silent movie.
Valentine (Zachary Burrell) reveals to Proteus (Jon Patrick O’Brien) that he is about to set off for Milan to explore the world and urges him to follow suit. Proteus does not because of his as-yet-unprofessed love for Julia (Maggie Lou Rader). Unbeknownst to Proteus, Julia does in fact love him, especially after receiving his proclamation of love through her maid Lucetta (Megan Massie). The two meet and declare their love, swearing devotion to one another by exchanging rings. Proteus is then called to the Duke of Milan’s court by his father, Antonio (Jon Huffman).
Meanwhile, in Milan, Valentine has fallen for the fair Sylvia (Arielle Leverett), daughter to the Duke of Milan. Although Sylvia is already betrothed to the Duke’s friend Thurio (Jeremy Sapp), Valentine still plans to elope with her and confides this to Proteus, who uses this knowledge against his friend because of his own infatuation with Sylvia, all the while forgetting about Julia. Upon hearing of the plan to elope, the Duke banishes Valentine from Milan. While exiled in the woods, Valentine happens upon a band of thieves who then make him their leader.
Meanwhile, in Verona, Julia decides to join her love in Milan and chooses to dress as a boy so as not to be harmed during the journey. Once in Milan she learns of Proteus’ love for Sylvia and pretends to be Sebastian, eventually hired by Proteus to be his page, all the while formulating her own plan of action. Proteus’ page Julia/Sebastian is asked to deliver a token of esteem to Sylvia, the same ring that she herself gave Proteus before he departed for Milan. Upon the attempted exchange of the gift, Sylvia spurns Proteus’s advances, once again declaring her undying love for Valentine.
Jon Patrick O’Brien shines as the duplicitous Proteus. Zachary Burrell is the essence of a love-struck man that goes above and beyond for the woman he loves. Maggie Lou Rader’s Julia is fun, reminding me of young, teen-age love, and her interaction with Megan Massie’s Lucetta was that of sisters/best friends teasing each other over life and love. Jeremy Sapp’s portrayal of the foppish Thurio is perfectly executed (especially the balcony scene) as is Jon Huffman’s Duke. Arielle Leverett is delightful as Sylvia, portraying her to be strong and vigilant. The ensemble provides just the right accentuating touches.
Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk about the clowns/buffoons of the story: Speed (Abigail Bailey Maupin), servant to Valentine and Launce (Gregory Maupin), servant to Proteus.
The use of clowns/buffoons is a common device among Shakespeare’s plays, and such characters are often used to relay sage wisdom, deliver comic relief, or act as the conscience of another character. Within this piece they serve as vehicles of advice, and the Maupins’ chemistry on stage is magical. They play off of each other in a most delicious way. One of the funniest pieces, under the direction of Musical Director Chris Bryant, is their performance of, “After You Get What You Want, You Don’t Want It At All”. It is known that Gregory is a decent ukulele player, but who knew he could also offer an ear-pleasing falsetto?
Lastly, one of the standouts of the play, who didn’t say a word, but still said a lot: was the beautiful Golden Retriever Hope, in the role of Crab, Launce’s dog. Her role is often credited as thus: “the most scene-stealing non-speaking role in the canon“, according to the Oxford Shakespeare. I couldn’t agree more.
From Paul Owens’ set design, Casey Clark’s lighting, Laura Ellis’ sound design, and the brilliance of all of the stage and cast, this is a fun and exciting trip to the turn of the 20th Century through the words of The Bard and vision of Matt Wallace. Get Thee to Central Park.
The Two Gentleman of Verona
June 1-5, 7-12, July 13, 16, 20, 23, 2016
8:00PM Nightly Free Show; 7:15 pre-show
Kentucky Shakespeare Festival
In Central Park
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.