The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Theater review by Adam Feldman
In Derek McLane’s set for Fiasco Theater’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, crumpled pieces of paper are shaped to suggest a grove of flowers bursting into bloom. That is exactly the spirit of this endearing production. In the show’s unusually thoughtful and well-considered program notes, codirectors Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld observe that the play may seem like “a first draft.” And indeed, Two Gents—one of the Bard’s earliest, briefest and least esteemed works—is usually best appreciated, if it is appreciated at all, as a collection of seedlings for devices (a cross-dressed heroine, a flight to the forest, a misused ring) that would come to fruit in subsequent efforts. But Fiasco’s winsome, swift and immensely appealing account dances lightly over the play’s pitfalls.
Through judicious editing and ingenious doubling of roles, Fiasco conveys the already-small dramatis personae of The Two Gentlemen of Verona via a tight-knit cast of six. Noah Brody and Zachary Fine play the title roles: respectively, Proteus, a changeable cad, and Valentine, his nobler-hearted best friend. When Valentine leaves Verona for Milan, there to court the fair Sylvia (Emily Young), Proteus stays behind to woo his lady love, Julia (Austrian). But when Proteus ends up in Milan, he begins courting Sylvia himself, and devises elaborate justifications for his betrayal of both Valentine (whom he gets banished) and Julia (who tracks him to Milan in male drag). Along for the bumpy rides are the men’s servants, Speed (Paul L. Coffey) and Launce (Andy Grotelueschen), plus Launce’s dim dog, Crab (Fine, in a strap-on black button nose).
The delightful bits between Launce and Crab are the play’s comic highlights, and this version gives them their due. But Fiasco’s real accomplishment is in giving the main plot a sense of substance. This Proteus may be a bounder, but he's a bouncy one; this Julia may be a pushover, but she’s no fool. Even the infamously unplayable final scene—with its flurry of bizarrely fast forgiveness for heinous behavior, including an attempted rape—almost works. By then, Fiasco has inspired our indulgence. The company seeks and finds beauty in the literary discard pile.—Adam Feldman
Theatre for a New Audience (Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Directed by Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.
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