Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the American Shakespeare Center

"Love is your master, for he masters you;"

The American Shakespeare Center tackles one of William Shakespeare's earliest plays with a high-energy romp through The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  While other Shakespearean plays have the reputation of being problem plays, The Two Gentlemen of Verona contains what is probably one of the greatest jerks to appear on the Elizabethan stage.  Yet, in this production, under the skillful direction of Ralph Alan Cohen, the ensemble deftly navigates the trickier aspects of the story creating an almost satisfying happy ending.

The two gentlemen in question are best friends Proteus (Gregory Jon Phelps) and Valentine (Grant Davis).  Valentine is leaving for the court of the Duke of Milan (John Harrell).  Proteus stays behind unwilling to leave his love Julia (Tracie Thomason).  Proteus' father Antonio (James Keegan) sends his son to Milan where he is reunited with Valentine, now head over heels in love with the Duke's daughter Sylvia (Abbi Hawk).  Proteus instantly falls in love with Sylvia and plots to win her from Valentine at any cost.   Add into the mix clownish servants, a band of merry outlaws, Julia disguised as a boy,a dog and many strange and silly episodes later the lovers are eventually reunited and we come to an slightly awkward happy ending.

The American Shakespeare Center has assembled a group of actors for its summer and fall season that are of excellent quality.   Many old favorites return and are joined by a few newcomers and others who return to the company after a few seasons absence.   Benjamin Curns and Alison Glenzer are merry and delightful as the two clowns Launce and Speed.  Ms. Glenzer in particular is crisp of tongue rapidly delivering Speed's humorous quips.   Mr. Curns manages to elude the axiom that one should not perform with children or animals by delivering a wonderful comedic performance while sharing the stage with the special guest stars who are portraying Launce's dog, Crab.

The American Shakespeare Center is partnering with Augusta Dog Adoptions for the run of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Each week a different dog available for adoption is portraying Crab. The American Shakespeare Center should be lauded for providing a platform and assisting homeless dogs in finding their forever homes.   Audience members are introduced at the beginning of the show to the featured dog and instructed to visit the box office to find out how to adopt the guest star or other dogs.   Bravo.

Returning to the human stars of the show, Abbi Hawk is regal as Sylvia the object of both Proteus and Valentine's ardent desire.  Tracie Thomason makes Julia a petulant lover at the beginning of the play who grows into heartbreak as she witnesses Proteus' betrayal of her constant heart.   Grant Davis plays well the heroic Valentine suffering through the obstacles his best friend places in the way of true love.

It was wise to place the troubling Proteus into the hands of company veteran Gregory Jon Phelps.  Proteus is an absolute jerk and the audience let Mr. Phelps know their feelings loudly as he first became the ardent suitor of Julia and then the wicked betrayer of Valentine and Sylvia.  The ending of the play is problematic as Proteus physically attacks Sylvia before realizing how far he has sunk from the bounds of decency.  Yet, Mr. Phelps wins back the audience by showing true remorse in that troubling scene.   While we may not accept Proteus' easy reconciliation with Julia, Mr. Phelps makes the audience believe that Proteus may yet earn that redemption.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is being performed as part of The American Shakespeare Center's summer season through November 23, 2012, along with William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and James Goldman's The Lion in Winter.   These plays will be joined in the fall by William Shakespeare's Cymbeline and King John.   For tickets and other performance information please visit www.americanshakespearecenter.com.

For information on Augusta Dog Adoptions and the guest stars appearing as Crab please visit www.augustadogadoptions.org.

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