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Thursday, July 23, 2009

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Verona?

Most literary scholars agree that William Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona is among the bard's earliest works, and quite likely his first written for the stage.
Certainly, there appears to be a lack of experience in the playwrighting, as any scene with more than four characters proves a bit unwieldy, and there are a number of character developments that seem to come out of nowhere, and are as unsettling as a plot point in a modern sitcom that has run longer than it should have. (Rachael and Joey? Really?) The women are not written with quite the fortitude and wit as, say, a Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. While the verse has Bill's usual mastery:

"O, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day,
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,
And by and by a cloud takes all away!"

There is a general feeling that the play is a bit unfinished. Presented in repertory with a play as well-crafted as, say, Hamlet, this rough little comedy may not withstand the comparison.
Since this is precisely what the Colorado Shakespeare Festival decided to do this summer, a very creative solution is warranted.
In my opinion, director Tom Markus and his team of artists found just such a solution. How to present a play that still feels a bit like a work in progress? Why, as a work in progress, of course!
The play begins by, well, not quite beginning. It is a rehearsal, and there is a bit of administrative business, the giving of actor's notes, a discussion of sets and costumes, and the late arrival of Dennis Elkins playing Launce played by . . . Dennis Elkins. When the "run-through" begins, it is in rough or partial costumes with unfinished sets and props and prone to interruptions by the flamboyant (and fictional) director Geoffrey Snitterfield-Smythe (played by Gary Allan Wright) and a bit of horsing around among the actors.
Matt Mueller plays himself struggling with the seeming dichotomy of Proteus - something that can be as difficult for the audience to swallow as it is for the actor to reconcile. By "including" us in the struggle, the paradox that is the twice-lovestruck Proteus becomes a far less bitter pill to take.
The arrested start and the interruptions have the potential to be quite distracting, but Markus and company cleverly draw these out just long enough for us to be anxious to get back to the action without being completely exasperating.
In a word, it is fun.
Most of the ensemble of Verona actually double in Hamlet, so seeing both shows (see Hamlet first if you can) heightens the novelty.
Of particular note is Jamie Ann Romero who, while quite compelling as Ophelia in Hamlet, proves to be absolutely captivating as Julia in this production.
CSF's production of Two Gentlemen of Verona might be a bit prickly for the more staunch traditionalists, but it's just a darn good time for everyone else, and would be a great show to introduce a newcomer to the work of the bard.
I'm still chuckling to myself about moments in the show, and I've read the play a few times before this. I think that's a good sign.
Photos by Kira Horvath for CU Communications

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