Collingswood Shakespeare Company is to be commended for producing one of the Bard’s lesser known plays, THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA. It is thought to be one of his earliest plays, even his first. However, it presents themes and devices that Shakespeare made much use of in later works: friendship and betrayal, love and inconstancy, clownish servants, a girl dressing as a boy, and so forth. Denise Brunker, the director of this production, feels that its theme is a young man’s discovery of his true self.
The two gentlemen, Proteus (Eric Chambers) and Valentine (Kris Varga), close friends, do not spend much time in Verona. In the opening scene, Valentine tells Proteus that he is going to Milan to start broadening his horizons. It isn’t long before Proteus’s father, Antonio (Angelo Ragonesi) thinks that Proteus should join Valentine. So he goes, bidding a tearful goodbye to his love, Julia (Iraisa Ann Reilly. But once he is in Milan, both he and Valentine fall in love with Silvia, the duke’s spirited daughter (Marissa Kennedy). Julia, encouraged by her faithful maid, Lucetta (Michelle Capanas), dresses as a boy and goes to Milan to find Proteus. She becomes his page, Sebastian. All kinds of complications arise, including betrayal; banishment; a third suitor, Thurio (Drew Biehl) for Silvia’s hand; and a band of outlaws before everything and everyone can be sorted out.
Chambers and Varga give sincere and believable performances as the two gentlemen, whether they are friends or rivals. Reilly sometimes seems too fiery-tempered as Julia, but this is probably because she doubts Proteus’s love for her. Kennedy, as Silvia, is likewise feisty, no surprise considering that three men are pursuing her. Laurence Beck is the sometimes pompous, sometimes frightening Duke of Milan, and Capanas is amusingly down to earth as Lucetta. Last, but not least, are the servants/messengers, typical Shakespearean clowns. Speed (Elise Ravella) often lives up to her name and displays a sharp tongue. Launce (Donald Hallcom) is an audience favorite with his antics and his two monologues about his beloved dog, Crab, and a certain milkmaid. The dog playing Crab is not named, but he gives a truly remarkable performance, staying so still in Launce’s arms that you may wonder if he is a real dog until he moves his head or paws.
The play is presented with a partial set and the audience on three sides. Simple stage props such as chairs, tables and benches are efficiently moved by the cast members during blackouts.
TWO GENTLEMEN may not be Shakespeare’s best, but it is fascinating theatrical fare, a comedy with serious overtones but always entertaining.
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Denise Brunker
April 12-20, 2013
Collingswood Shakespeare Company
Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
839 Haddon Avenue
Collingswood, NJ 08108