Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 17, 2016

Two Gentlemen of Verona

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through September 4, 2016
by Shera Cohen

Photo by Ava G. Lindenmaier
“Two Gentlemen of Verona,” one of The Bard’s early comedies, performed infrequently at Shakespeare & Company (S&Co), hits the stage running, dancing, promenading, singing, and clowning. The cast of 15 are a colorful lot – literally and figuratively. The motley group boasts royalty, outlaws, servants, lovers, scoundrels, and a dog that steals the show.

This is a Shakespeare play which is quite easy “to get” by any fledgling audience member. At the crux of the tale are two handsome young men; 16th century BFFs. Our hero, Valentine, journeys to Verona. There he meets and falls in love with Sylvia. Back home, Proteus, engaged to Julia, decides to join his buddy, sets his eyes on Sylvia, and also falls in love. Poor Julia? Out of sight, out of mind. The story is light, until the ending, although issues of true friendship, betrayal, and fickle love are demonstrated throughout. There’s the woman disguised as a man theme, love triangle, and razor sharp servants (called clowns) which often populate these comedies.

It is wonderful to see many S&Co “regulars” and “former regulars” on stage; i.e. Jason Asprey, John Hadden, and Ryan Winkles. In my early S&Co days, I primarily saw Asprey featured in dramas and history plays. Now, a bit older, he seems to have diversified his talents, making for a perfectly enjoyable servant. I could say the same about Hadden’s onstage personas of years ago. I hadn’t realized that Hadden could also portray comedy with a capital “C.” Together with his dog, Hadden has the best lines in the story. Winkles uses every cell in his body (well, it seems that way) to become whoever S&Co needs him to be, in this case the not too bright, somewhat bumbling, well-meaning Valentine. Winkles captures every verbal and physical nuance – anything that legitimately makes his character funnier. Winkles doubles as fight choreographer, earning extra kudos for some laugh-out-loud rumbles.

Of course, none of these talents, not to mention the others in the cast, could do pretty much anything without the Jonathan Croy’s director’s hand. Croy, like the others mentioned, is part of the tried & true S&Co team. My guess is that because Croy is one of the funniest actors on the S&Co stages, it is natural that he was chosen to direct this comedy.

For those who insist on Shakespeare “pure,” perhaps S&Co is not the venue for you. However, I think, and many agree that additions of shtick, 21st century puns, RAP music, and audience participation makes for fun theatre.