For its eleventh annual summer offering, Shakespeare in Clark Park is offering a take on The Two Gentlemen of Verona that feels light and airy as the summer breeze wafting across the park. It’s blessed by a cast that injects it with just the right blend of drama and sweetness.
Kathryn MacMillan’s direction kept the opening night audience rapt; shocked (but approving) murmurs went through the crowd at key moments in the plot. That’s a tough thing to do, partly because Two Gentlemen, while it has a lot of funny, winsome and engaging components, is too unwieldy to be one of Shakespeare’s best works: One of the two title gentlemen turns out to be a jerk, while the two main women are too underused to be substantial characters.
In addition, the play, which was one of Shakespeare’s first works, uses stock elements that he went on to use repeatedly – like a woman who disguises herself as a boy – but they’re not integrated into the action as well here as they are in his later plays. It’s filled with too many long soliloquies that slow down the action. And the ending, while it emphasizes the healing power of forgiveness, allows the jerk to get away with his actions without any serious repercussions.
MacMillan’s production takes a while to find its footing; the tonal transitions between drama and comedy feel awkward at times. Fortunately, though, this production of Two Gentlemen has a lot to recommend it, starting with its two central pairs of lovers, who all give compelling performances.
In the play’s opening scenes, Valentine (David Glover) falls in love with Silvia (Maria Konstantinidis), and all seems well until his best friend Proteus (Jake Blouch) sees her. Proteus decides to steal her for himself – even though he has a devoted love, Julia (Claire Inie-Richards), back home. All four actors are excellent, with Blouch the standout; his performance makes Proteus seem less evil than deeply conflicted.
Eventually, a whole horde of additional characters – rivals, bandits, fathers, and servants – shows up to complicate matters, and they add a lot of the color to this Two Gentlemen. K.O. DelMarcelle is lively as the servant Speed, looking sporty in a cap and vest, while Trevor William Fayle has a brief but riotous turn as Sir Eglamour, who guides Silvia through a dangerous forest wearing a Boy Scout uniform. (Natalia de la Torre’s costumes are widely diverse and clever). Lindsay Smiling adds a touch of refinement in a double role as a pair of fathers, and Brock Vickers scores laughs as a preening rival for Silvia’s affection.
But it’s Meghan Winch’s droll performance as the servant Launce that captivated the audience the most. Launce and her dog Crab – played here by Peanut, a tiny dog with a delightful indifference to the stage directions – make a pair that rivals the play’s other couples in appeal.
The Suburban Jazz Quintet, led by trumpeter Caleb Jackson, keeps the mood peppy – and gives the show a nice sense of unity – by playing snippets of 1950s bebop and cool jazz standards at key moments throughout the show. Their music provides the show with an air of stylish sophistication which suits it perfectly.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with no intermission.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona plays through Sunday, July 31, 2016 at Clark Park, 43rd Street and Chester Avenue, in Philadelphia, PA. Tickets are free, but a donation is encouraged. For further information, visit their website.