"I rather would entreat thy company
To see the wonders of the world abroad,
Than, living dully sluggardized at home,
Wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness"
You'd think that any play that uses the word "sluggardized" would be good by me, and by now everyone knows this story of rivalry and brotherly love anyway. Right? No? This story is over 400 years old! Were you asleep during sophomore English class or something? Shame on you. Okay, here's a bit of summary.
Ahem. TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA is a play by that awesome dead dude Willy Shakespeare, believed to be written way back in the day (around 1590) and also believed to be the first play he ever wrote. TWO GENTS follows besties Valentine and Proteus through the tricky territory of love and banishment, mistaken identity and betrayal, fraternal devotion and ultimate commitment, and (of course) girls dressing up as boys. Except in Spark's adaptation it's not so much about these grand themes as about frat boy humor that misses the cleverness target.
While the modern college-roomies milieu is an interesting concept, this particular production lacks the execution. In order to pull off the full effect of translating Willy's storytelling for a contemporary audience, the production team needed to go the over-the-top extra mile, maybe even watch Animal House a few hundred times to capture the collegiate juvenile silliness. The show initially had all the makings of a good time the second we were handed our programs in red Dixie cups with instructions on how to play beer pong (don't tell me director Michael Emmitt had nothing to do with that!) The stage door even whimsically had a dry erase board on it. There were a few college appropriate posters on the wall, but besides the college garb that everyone wore, that's as far as the concept went. It left me wanting a more full-blown campy farce experience rather than a half-assed take on what could have been a unique perspective - change up the formal Willy verse and make it a bro show to the max, dude! Use freshmen pledges to change the set (that would take care of working in the "servant" characters). Put a ratty couch and a bean bag chair on the stage and litter a dingy carpet with beer cans! Hell, pop a few Buds and leave them in strategic places so the smell of barley and hops fills the auditorium! With that said, I must help redeem the cast, because they were marvelous.
Matthew Blood-Smyth as the womanizing Proteus possesses presence and strength. His monologues were endearing and delivered in a manner that communicated Proteus's serious personality; Blood-Smyth makes Shakespeare look and sound easy. In contrast to Proteus's earnestness, AnDrew Miller is fun and light as Valentine, but he sometimes fell into that formal speak that can happen when navigating Sir Willy's prose. To be consistent with the modern approach, there should have been more bro speak, less Willy speak. Alejandra Venancio as the lovelorn, gender-bending Julia was also quite impressive, exuding professionalism and confidence as a young actress. Lauren Bahlman delivers a strong performance in her role as no-nonsense, skeptical Silvia. I must also compliment The Outlaws (J Mesa, Emily March, EVan Johnson) and Gracen Porecca as Thurio for adding a much needed humor element to the show.
This critique does come from a place of love. I adore Spark. Their inaugural productions Dangerous Liaisons and Rear Window were so innovative they made for superb theater and set the bar pretty high for follow-up productions. So I was disappointed to see these capable thespians do a show halfway, but I look forward to what they do next. With that said, I must still applaud them for taking on Shakespeare, which is a huge undertaking for any theater company!
TWO GENTS OF VERONA plays until November 19th at Spark Theater. For tickets or information, contact Spark 720-346-7396 or online at www.sparktheater.org.
PHOTO CREDIT: Meg Ralph
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Michael Mulhern has lived in Denver and been active in it's theater scene for over 10 years. He is originally from Wiesbaden, Germany and graduated with a BFA in Theater Performance from the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Currently he performs in one to two shows a year and is a proud member of the Denver Gay Men's Chorus. Some of Michael's favorite performances include - Lend Me a Tenor, Guys and Dolls, The Shadow Box, Buried Child, and Jeffrey. He is proud to represent Denver and it's growing theater community on BroadwayWorld.com!|
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