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THEATER REVIEW: A LOVELY TIME WITH ‘TWO GENTLEMEN’
Even with this tight group of six players, it is the dog that is asked to do some tech work.
However, the dog in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” isn’t actually a real one, but it is played to the utmost scene-stealing capacity by Zachary Fine. With just a simple round black plastic nose and rolled-up pants, our dashing leading man playing Valentine instantly becomes everyone’s favorite “sourest-natured” pooch, Crab. As his master Lance complains about him, Crab sits by his side bright-eyed and grinning ear to ear, mouthing his own thoughts to the audience. And after one of the show’s many laugh-out-loud moments, involving an unfortunately misplaced ball on one fella, poor Crab is ordered to take down the party lanterns.
The relationship between Lance and his furry companion is just one of many at play in “Two Gentlemen,” presented by New York’s Fiasco Theater at the Folger Theatre. This story explores friendship and love on many levels: that between two friends, a man and his lady or even master and servant.
In “Two Gentlemen,” Proteus declares his love for Julia while Valentine pines for the Duke’s daughter Sylvia. However, after one glance at Sylvia, Proteus all of a sudden forgets his fiancée back home and plots to get his buddy’s girl.
With the pursuit of love driving this romantic comedy, it is ultimately the story of these two best friends.
The early Shakespeare play, considered to be the Bard’s first, lacks the complexity of his later works or the grand scope of characters, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem lies in a story, where Proteus tries to woo his best friend’s gal only after getting him in trouble with her father and thusly, banished. Seriously, banished. Not to mention, Proteus later tries to force himself upon her.
In the end, Shakespeare ties it all up in a neat package with friends making up and the promise of double wedding fun because this is, remember, a comedy.
Minus these story imperfections, “Two Gentlemen of Verona” is actually a quite delightful production, and that’s largely because of this fine visiting theater company, featuring swift direction by co-directors Jessie Austrian, who plays the oft-wailing Julia, and Ben Steinfeld, seen later next month in Fiasco’s follow-up performance of “Cymbeline.” A likable and attractive cast, this small group of actors rely on each other to tell this story without the trappings of an overpowering set design. Props here are minimal, and rarely do the performers disappear into the wings.
The little musical interludes add a layer of loveliness to an already charming production. (However, awkward might be the better word when Julia discovers Proteus’ change of heart when he’s rocking out in a song about Sylvia.) Praise should also be extended to Whitney Locher for her catching neutral-colored costume choices.
Fiasco’s streamlined approach highlights Shakespeare’s beautifully rhythmic language and allows the audience to fill in the blanks. As with many shows at this Washington venue, the shows here invite the audience into Shakespeare’s world. Actors make eye contact with the viewers or nod in their direction for understanding and sometimes, offer a “bless you” when they sneeze, as Proteus did during last Sunday’s show.
What: “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”
Where: Folger Theatre, 201 E. Capitol St. SE, Washington
When:Through May 25
Info: 202/544-7077; folger.edu