My favorite musical of all time is “Two Gentlemen of Verona“, which I saw at the Ahmanson Theatre back in 1973. It never fails to cheer me up. So when I learned that the author of the piece, a guy named Bill Shakespeare, had also written a non-musical version, I was curious. I then learned that The Old Globe Theatre (FB) in San Diego would be presenting a production of the show… while we were in the area on vacation. As we don’t stop going to theatre while on vacation… well, guess where we were last night :-). That’s right … we were seeing one of Bill’s earliest comedies, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona“.
Shakespeare has two types of plays: tragedies, where everyone dies at the end, and comedies, where everyone falls in love at the end. TGOV is one of Shakespeare’s earlier comedies, with no deep meetings, just light fun. TGOV tells the story of two best friends: Proteus and Valentine. As they graduate from their academy, the choose different directions for their lives: Valentine goes off to find fame and fortune working for the Duke of Milan in Milan, while Proteus remains in Verona to woo the women he has fallen in love with: Julia. Although Julia initially sees nothing in him, her woman-servant Lucetta convinces her to give him a chance. They pledge their undying love for each other, and give each other rings as tokens. But Proteus’ father wants him to have more experience, so he chooses to send him to Milan to join his friend, Valentine. Meanwhile, Valentine has arrived in Milan and fallen in love with the Duke’s daughter, Sylvia… who the Duke has promised to Turio, a foppish, foolish, and rich suitor. Sylvia, however, has fallen for Valentine and secretly bethrothed herself to him. When Proteus arrives in Milan, Valentine tells Proteus of his love and his plans to elope. All changes when Proteus sees Sylvia, for he then falls in love with her as well. Proteus plots to win her affections, discredit Valentine, and discredit Turio. He informs the Duke of the plans to elope, and gets Valentine banished. He then proposes to win Sylvia for Turio, all the while trash-talking Turio and up-talking himself. Sylvia will have none of it, for Valentine has told her of Proteus’ love for Julia, and she wants Proteus to love Julia, not Sylvia. Meanwhile, Julia has decided she cannot live without Proteus, and so she dresses as a man to go to Milan. Proteus hires Julia, who he knows as Sebastian, to carry his messages to Sylvia. In doing so, Julia sees that Sylvia will have nothing to do with Proteus. Meanwhile, after Valentine is banished, he takes up with a band of ruffians in the forest, becoming their general. Meanwhile (there are lots of meanwhiles), Sylvia has made plans with a former suitor, Sir Eglamore, to rescue her and take her to Valentine. When they are in the forest, the ruffians attack them. Eglamore runs off and the ruffians take Sylvia to their general (Valentine), but on the way, Proteus rescues her. She still refuses him, and Proteaus starts to physically take her. Valentine then breaks them up, and Proteus repents. Valentine then gives Sylvia to Proteus, which forces Sebastian (Julia) to reveal herself, which brings Proteus to Julia and Valentine to Sylvia. Turio then shows up and proves himself to be a coward, so the Duke goes along with the pairings. Add to this the two man servants — Speed, assistant to Valentine, and Launce (who is more in love with his dog, Crab). These three (two men and the dog) provide comic relief throughout the piece.
This was my first time seeing the original. As I watched the story, I kept comparing it with the NYSF 1973 production storyline. Many things were different: Proteus did not get Julia pregnant; Julia didn’t travel with Lucetta; there appeared to be no strong pre-relationship between Sylvia and Eglamore; and the Duke had a much smaller role. The timeline was also changed. I’m guessing these changes were in the original, although it is possible that The Old Globe made slight changes in the story to condense it down to a 90 minute, one-act production (although, reading the Wikipedia summary, it looks more like the NYSF added to and reworked the story slightly). I also found that my familiarity with the story made the initial language hurdle smaller — I was able to follow the story because I knew the basic outlines. I find this is useful for Shakespeare — seeing Kiss Me Kate or Atomic Shakespeare helps with Taming of the Shrew, and I’m sure familiarity with The Lion King helps with Hamlet. Many things in the show were the same, and I discovered that many of the songs were literal from Shakespeare. The show itself was fun and well performed, and very accessible. This was the kind of show that made me want to see more Shakespeare. For all that, however, this show is rarely produced and many consider it to be one of Shakespeare’s weakest plays (they feel it may have been his first and shows his immaturity as a playwright). The best answer is to decide for yourself. This well-performed production would be a good place to start.
The leads were very strong (note: the photos to the right are from the Old Globe publicity site, and were taken by Jim Cox). As Proteus, Adam Kantor (TW, FB) projected an engaging personality that gave himself whole-heartedly to love; as his compatriot Valentine, Hubert Pont-Du Jour was even more engaging and warm with just a wonderful air of likeability. Of course, I was more taken with their loves. Both Kristin Villanueva (FB) as Julia and Britney Coleman (TW, FB) as Sylvia had smiles that could just melt your heart, and both did a great job of projecting the personalities of these women as more than just characters on a page. These four were just a joy to watch — they had the chemistry to make them believable as couples, and they seemed to just enjoy inhabiting these characters. I also found it interesting that Old Globe continued in the NYSF colorblind casting tradition — in particular with a black Valentine and Sylvia, just as in the musical I love.
Supporting Proteus and Valentine as their aides/servants were Rusty Ross (FB) as Speed, Richard Ruiz (FB) as Launce, and Khloe Jezbera as Crab. Both of the men gave appropriately comic performances — Ross was suitably manic; Ruiz was more old-school comic; and both were delightful in the scene reading about Launce’s milkmaid love. Khloe was a scene-stealer as Crab, behaving perfectly and playfully on stage. The female servants had smaller roles: As Lucetta, Erin Elizabeth Adams (About the Artists, FB) had a much smaller role than in the musical, but played quite well off of Villanueva’s Julia. Lindsay Brill (TW, FB) was Sylvia’s page (as well as an outlaw and a student).
The main supporting characters were Mark Pinter (TW, FB) as the Duke of Milan, and Lowell Byers (FB) as Turio (which should have been Thurio), Sylvia’s foolish intended. Pinter captured the authority of the Duke well, but I expected a bit more pomposity as well. Perhaps that’s a difference in the character between the musical and the original. Byers’s Turio came off a little too serious — again, I was expecting a bit more silliness or foppishness. Still, the portrayal worked.
Rounding out the remainder of the cast were: Meaghan Boeing (FB) (Lady-in-Waiting, Music Assistant); Charlotte Bydwell (FB) (Lady-in-Waiting, Dance Captain); Jamal Douglas (FB) (Servant to Antonio, Musician, Outlaw 3, Student); Adam Gerber (FB) (Sir Eglamour, Student); Arthur Hanket (FB) (Antonio, Dancing Master, Outlaw 2); Kushtrim Hoxha (Panthino, Outlaw, Student); Stephen Hu (FB) (Outlaw, Student); Tyler Kent (FB) (Host, Outlaw, Student); Robbie Simpson (TW, FB)( (Dancing Instructor to Sylvia, Musician, Outlaw, Student); Megan M. Storti (FB) (Lady-in-Waiting); and Patrick Zeller (FB) (Outlaw 1, Student).
The production was directed by Mark Lamos, who did a great job of bringing the story to life in the simple, old-style stage that is the festival theatre. There was little scenery to set the stage, so to have the different locales come out so well is a testament to good staging.
Turning to the technical side… as I just noted, the scenic design of John Arnone was simple — a number of well-done flats and trees meant to evoke Verona or Milan, but otherwise not interacting with the actors (although the multilevel thrust stage was useful). Linda Cho‘s costumes were beautiful, rich, and well-done, and evoked the appropriate echos of the period (or at least what we think the period to be) while still having touches that grounded them in today. I particularly liked the ruffled collar on the dog. Stephen Strawbridge (FB)’s lighting design illuminated the stage well and set the scene appropriately. Acme Sound Partner‘s sound design did the best that it could to make the actors be heard clearly and to provide appropriate sound effects; alas, it was hampered by the Old Globe’s location near the flight path for San Diego International Airport. Would that the theatre had the clout to stop all flights in and out of the airport during performances. Don’t they know that theatre matters? The original music was by Fitz Patton (FB) and worked well; it would have been nice to interpolate “Who Is Sylvia?” from the NYSF version. Movement was by Jeff Michael Rubudal (FB) and worked well on the stage, particularly in the dance scenes. Michael Rossmy (FB) was the fight director. David Huber was the voice and text coach. Bret Torbeck (FB) was the stage manager, assisted by Amanda Salmons (FB).
“Two Gentlemen of Verona” continues at The Old Globe Theatre (FB) through Sunday, September 14. Tickets are available through the Old Globe production page. Note that the page does not render correctly under Firefox — you need to scroll down to the bottom to find the information. I was unable to find any discounts for this show on Goldstar or the San Diego Arts Tix.
Dining Notes: For dinner before the show, we crossed the bridge over to Cucina Urbana. We got there early enough that we didn’t need a reservation — this is a good thing as reservations are supposedly hard to get. A foodie place, but not outrageously priced. Karen had a polenta with a ragu that she just loved; I had a wonderful lamb sausage pizza with fontina cheese. Well worth considering before the show.
[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]
Upcoming Theatre and Concerts: Our next show is on Wednesday: “Pageant” at the Cygnet Theatre (FB) in Old Town. August will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7, “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, “Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19), “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/21, “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27. October, so far, only has one show: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, although I’m looking at “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) for either Sat 10/11 or Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF). November is back to busy, with dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11, “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. I’d love to get down to San Diego to see either (or both) of “Bright Star“, the new Steve Martin/Edie Brikell musical, at The Old Globe Theatre (FB) (September 13-November 2), or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (based on the Disney film) at The La Jolla Playhouse (FB) (October 25-December 2), but I’m not sure either would work in the schedule. As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.