The Two Gentlemen of Verona: 4.5 Stars

Review by Claudia A. Fox Tree

As I approached the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s Free presentation of the comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona, I was surprised to see a band in the pit. I didn’t think I’ve ever seen one of the “Shakespeare On The Common” plays performed as a musical, but here it was going to happen – and what a rollicking good time it was!

It’s always fun to see how a classic Shakespeare play stands up to the test of time. What place and era will be the setting for tonight’s rendition? This summer’s performance of “Two Gents,” directed by the company’s Artistic Director Steven Maler, transports us to the late 1940’s with the help of Set Designer, Beowulf Boritt. The music of the “Rat Pack” isn’t at the Sands Hotel, but at the “Golden Nugget” in Las Vegas. Lighting Designer, Eric Southern, turns the red backdrop into a neon-lit Vegas strip that highlights location names as the scenes change. The tag line, “What happens in Milan, stays in Milan,” brings home the high rolling, gambling theme that is the backdrop for a love quadrangle.

Valentine (played by Andrew Burnap) and Proteus (portrayed by Peter Cambor) are the gentlemen who part ways, for a bit, so that Valentine can go to Verona (a.k.a. Las Vegas) to improve himself. While there, he falls in love with Silvia (played by Ellen Adair), the Duke’s daughter (a.k.a. Mafia Kingpin), but Silvia is promised to Thurio (portrayed by Evan Sanderson). Meanwhile, the central character of Julia (played by Jenna Augen) decides that she loves Proteus, but his father, Antonio, sends him away to Verona to follow Valentine. Proteus loves Julia, too, or at least until he meets Silvia, and there ensues a love triangle (Proteus, Valentine, and Silvia), that increases by one when Julia arrives in Verona, disguised as the page, Sebastian. “Love is like a child, that longs for everything it can come by” is one quote that shows the characters’ motivation to follow each other like trained dogs, and demonstrates some of the hilarious one-liners that Shakespeare uses to comment on love.

The 1971 original Broadway musical production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona won the Tony Award for Best Musical, but the songs and time period were totally different than tonight’s show, which featured “Rat Pack” songs from around the big band era. The choice of music moves the story forward and helps the audience understand the characters’ feelings with tunes such as, “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” “Witchcraft,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” The lyrics and tunes integrate seamlessly into this traditional Shakespeare play. Sound Designer, J Hagenbuckle, and Music Director, Colin Thurmond, have made fabulous choices and enriched this musical production with their addition.

Sometimes the songs are backdrop to a dance routine, sometimes lip-synched, and sometimes sung live. The pit musicians, dressed in traditional big band attire of white jackets and black pants, accompany the live performances. Besides acting their parts to a tee, Augen and Cambor are excellent singers who can belt out a tune fantastically. The dance numbers are highly stylized in costume (by designer, Nancy Leary) and movement, emphasizing the Las Vegas atmosphere. “Change Partners” is a stunning number in the first act, as is “Fever” in the second act. I can’t say enough about how the music and dance enhances this “Two Gents” production. It’s really something interesting to see.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is often considered Shakespeare’s first play. Knowing this, the characters, puns, cross-dressing women, relationships between characters, and themes of gender, power, and love foreshadow what will be present in later plays, such as, Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Twelfth Night.

Speed (played by Remi Airaldi), Valentine’s page, and Launce (portrayed by Larry Coen), Proteus’s servant and master to a real life dog, Crab, are the Tweedledum and Tweedledee comic relief who, wearing argyle socks and shorts, act as foils for their masters and help viewers understand more about power and love within these two men. Speed speaks the truth of the obvious, “If you love her, you cannot see her.” Why? “Because love is blind.” Will loyalty between friends or passion for the opposite sex rule the day?

Bring a blanket, or low to the ground chair, and dinner, if you want, and enjoy an evening out in Boston. There is plenty of space for everyone, though the view can be obscured by trees or far away, depending where you sit. Don’t forget to pick up your “validated parking ticket” from an usher, if you use the underground Boston Common parking, for a dollar off the $11.00 parking rate.

There was a slight breeze on the night we attended the play, so we didn’t need bug spray. It rained during the fifteen-minute intermission, so the second act didn’t start until after a thirty-minute delay, in which the stage was mopped dry. The entire performance ended up being over three hours long. Keep that in mind, if you are working the next day!

This year’s performances are dedicated to Mayor Thomas and First Lady Angela Menino in recognition of their many years of supporting and championing CSC’s work. You can make a $10 donation by texting “CSC” to 80100.

Please note that the TIMES vary for different performances. The schedule is July 6 at 8pm; July 7 at 7pm; July 8-12 at 8pm; July 14-15 at 8:30pm; July 17 at 8:30pm; July 18 at 1pm; July 21 at 7pm; July 23-26 at 8pm; July 27 at 2pm & 8pm; and July 28 at 7pm.

For frequently asked questions about the venue, please see: www.commshakes.org.