‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

What’s not to like about Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s presentation of The Two Gentlemen of Verona? The playwright has had some good reviews. So, too, has the show’s director/choreographer Sally Boyett, the company’s producing artistic director. Get thee to this merriment-now!

Patrick Truhler (Proteus) and Amy Pastoor (Julia). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Patrick Truhler (Proteus) and Amy Pastoor (Julia). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

The cast is terrific, and there are no quibbles about their environment, thanks to the results of Jackie Colestock’s costuming, Adam Mendelson’s lighting design, the music arrangements by Gregory Thomas Martin, or the work of scenic artist Mariana Fernandez.

For a generation not familiar with the Bard, The Two Gentlemen of Verona just might be some Jersey Boys Tony Soprano wanted whacked in Verona, a town next to his fictive home in North Caldwell, New Jersey.

But, Tony would have loved this iteration of one of Shakespeare’s early playwriting efforts.

Bada Bing! What’s not to love?

Sally Boyett has provided another reason to line up for a ticket by transporting the cast – but not the dialog – four centuries forward into the Jazz Age of the 20th Century. Instead of doublets, armor, gowns and stiff pleated collars, the characters are garbed in Gatsby-era garments by Costume Designer Jackie Colestock.

The fight scenes, choreographed by Amy Pastoor, are as realistic as any Georgetown bar brawl.

Spoiler alert, Julie Ricketts is quite the bitch in her role as Crab, the dog. As Crab is a male, this small chocolate and cream beast worked overtime to get under the fur of the soignee character. Crab’s deadpan stare when Launce goes emotionally overboard brought the house down.

The intimate, black box theatre seated its 68 audience members on three sides around the staging area. Characters enter from all four sides and, sometimes, glide behind the audience en route to the next scene. During blackouts, the cast arranged props in choreographed unison.

During a scene, characters often handed a prop to a front row ticket holder, like a champagne glass or a cane, retrieving it before making their egress. One actor flirted with an audience member in the back row – while staying in character.

The stage backdrop appears to be a mauve and purple sunburst, accentuated by ray-like lines. These turned out to be LED lights that changed color on cue. The floor was painted realistically to resemble large, striated black marble tiles.

Adam Mendelson’s lighting throughout the show expertly set the mood.

The play opens with best buds forever Valentine (Joel Ottenheimer) and Proteus (Patrick Truhler) preparing to split up. Valentine wants to get out of Verona and travel to Milan. Proteus won’t go. He’s in love with Julia.

Yet, one of his servants, Speed (Brian Keith MacDonald), while trying to deliver a note to Julia, has had an off-putting interaction with Lucetta (Renata Plecha, in the first of her three roles), pretending to be her mistress.

In turn, Julia (Amy Pastoor) is not amused when she learns of Lucetta’s deceit. Angrily, she tears up Proteus’ love letter. When Lucetta leaves, Julia hastily retrieves the scraps of paper from the floor and, rubbing a piece of paper together containing her name and Proteus’, generates some erotic heat.

Joel Ottenheimer (Valentine) and Laura Rocklyn (Silvia). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Joel Ottenheimer (Valentine) and Laura Rocklyn (Silvia). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Valentine, meanwhile, has made himself at home in Milan in the court of Antonio (Brian Davis). He’s fallen in love with Silvia (Laura Rocklyn). But, her artistocratic father is busy arranging her marriage to Thurio (Brendan Edward Kennedy).

Proteus’ father orders Proteus to follow Valentine to Milan. Proteus has a romantic farewell picnic with Julia, vowing his love. The two exchange distinctive rings – and lots of kisses.

Another servant, Launce (Matthew Alan Ward), has been told to leave his beloved dog, Crab, behind and go with Proteus.

Good lord, what planet did this rubber-limbed Launce creature come from? As Crab played the straight man – er – dog, Ward rolled, stumbled and blubbered about the stage. The actor’s face was malleable mashup of silly putty features and a tongue Gene Simmons would envy.

Julie (Crab, the dog) and Matthew Alan Ward (Launce). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Julie (Crab, the dog) and Matthew Alan Ward (Launce). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

He talks to his shoes, cane and hat. His left shoe, he says, represents his not so well-loved mother, “Because she has the worser sole.”

The sadness of his meltdown scene is immediately lightened as the music rises with the sounds of Cole Porter’s “It’s De-Lovely!” and  a familiar Jazz Age dance.

As Act I ends, Julia decides she must follow her lover Proteus. To avoid being attacked while traveling alone, she disguises herself as a man.

Act II opens with another comic scene by Launce, set to a ragtime tune. “I am …but a fool,” he tells the audience.

He launches into a raunchy discussion with Speed of a milkmaid that he loves. The two men’s hysterical conversation, innuendo and gestures are not rated PG.

In the next scene, Proteus has met Sylvia and fallen instantly in love. He’ll do anything to get her – even if he must betray his best friend. He’s completely forgotten about Julia.

Standing by, watching his every move is his new man-servant. Another plot twist.

Proteus meets with the noble Antonio (Brian Davis), Sylvia’s father, and Thorio. To prevent Sylvia from running off with Valentine, Antonio locks her in a tower each night.

Proteus informs Antonio of Valentine’s plan to whisk Sylvia away that evening.

Antonio immediately banishes Valentine from Milan. Shortly after, Valentine is captured by a band of outlaws who claim, they, too, had been banished.

The fun begins. And lots of it.

Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona plays through June 28, 2015 at ASC Studio 111 -111 Chiquapin Round Road, Suite 114, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 415-3513, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1552.gif

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