- OnStage Massachusetts Critic
Lenox, MA - Director Jonathan Croy has once again delivered: with a wonderful production of William Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona. This comedy is about friendship, betrayal, fathers, their grown children, and the transfixing power of love. It is the story of a young couple in love: Proteus and Julia, Proteus’ best friend Valentine, who finds a love of his own in fair Sylvia, two concerned fathers, an undesired suitor, a few servants who always seem to be finding themselves having to talk sense into their masters, and three outlaws who make things even more exciting. This production mashes Shakespeare and Company veterans with newcomers in an entertaining and thrilling show.
The set design by Kris Stone featured a royal blue painted stage with a white flourishing design on opposite ends and included a trap door which was used in creative ways throughout the play. Another prominent, scenic element was the beautiful LED lite clouds that surrounded the space. They changed color as the scenes changed and different characters appeared on stage. For example, when Julia or Sylvia were prominent on stage the colors were pink and purple whereas when Valentine and other male characters were on stage the colors were most often blue, green or white.
Luke Reed composed original music for this production including a very fun and funny, updated version of “Who is Sylvia?” set to his original music using Shakespeare’s lyrics. The number was fantastically performed by the cast who danced and sang back-up in the aisles, while Proteus (Thomas Brazzle) sang lead. This number and its hilarity were further exemplified by the funky lighting, designed by Matthew Miller, and ever-changing cloud colors. They turned the mood of the scene into a groovy, club-like atmosphere then immediately went back to the time period of the play when the song was over. This version re-engaged the audience in the 2nd half of the show and was delightfully enjoyed.
Company veteran Ryan Winkles delivered a fantastic performance of Valentine. His glasses and many facial expressions showed his character to be young, at times naïve, but full of joy and excitement for life and love. Having last seen him in the title role of last season’s Henry V, it was wonderful to see him in an entirely different and comedic role. His characterization of Valentine was so vastly different and superbly well done that it’s no wonder he has become an audience favorite over the years. His love interest Sylvia was portrayed by Cloteal L. Horne. As Sylvia, she was feminine and flirty, but also strong-willed and steadfast in her beliefs and choices. Sylvia was so fervently in love with Valentine that she would not be swayed by any other man or her father’s wishes. Her father, the Duke, was played by Erick Avari with energy and wit.
Thomas Brazzle, as Proteus, showed a range of strength, humor, passion and agony in his portrayal. Where some may have played the role one sided, he fully embraced the character’s positive attributes as well as his flaws and faults to deliver a well-rounded and realistic young man. His first love, Julia, was beautifully, emotionally, and fiercely portrayed by Kate Abbruzzese. Julia is so in love with Proteus that she decides to disguise herself as a man to go and see him, but the man she finds was not the one whom she’d fallen for and she finds herself confused and brokenhearted. The final scene between them was genuinely moving and leaves us to wonder, “Is love enough?”
A highlight from act one was the incredibly fast and yet clearly spoken lines between Speed (Jason Asprey) and Proteus (Thomas Brazzle). They were excellently executed and highly amusing. Asprey continued to appeal to the audience in his humorous role throughout the play and was terrific in his use of and interaction with them. John Hadden as Launce and his beautiful white dog Ella, as Crab, were greatly enjoyed by all. Ella, of course, received applause after every successful scene on stage.
Rounding out the cast were Peter Anderson (Panthino/Admiral Johan Stephensen), Michael Fuchs (Antonio/Host), Deaon Griffin-Pressley (Attendant/Outlaw Billy Bob Jr.), Tamara Hickey (Lucetta), Shahar Isaac (Sir Eglamour), Bella Merlin (Outlaw Lizzy “The Bodkin” Burnett), and Dylan Wittrock (Sir Thurio).
An unexpected fight scene towards the end of the production really showed the emotional range of this play. One moment, the characters are friendly and laughing, the next, they are angry and attacking each other. The ending was very powerful and it allowed this comedy to end differently than some might expect.
The comedic timing of this dynamic cast was fantastic throughout. They were actively listening to each other and reacting, not just saying their lines, thus showing the level of skill, talent, effort and time they put into this production. It was very entertaining and well deserved the standing ovation it received.
It’s been said, the audience often wants of a play: comedy, love and a bit with a dog. And this play certainly delivers all three. The Two Gentlemen of Verona is playing in the Tina Packer Playhouse until September 4th and runs approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes including intermission. Tickets and more information can be found at www.shakespeare.org.
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