Talkin' Broadway Regional News & Reviews: Cleveland - "Two Gentlemen of Verona" - 4/18/11
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CLEVELAND
Regional Reviews by David Ritchey

Two Gentlemen of Verona

Two Gentlemen of Verona was probably Shakespeare's first play. That we're in the hands of a relatively inexperienced playwright may explain why this is one of Shakespeare's weakest scripts. In this play he experimented with several themes that appear in his later scripts. Two Gentlemen of Verona is seldom produced and for that reason audiences alone, should make an effort to see this production.

In Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare was writing for a specific acting company and the particular talents of the actors. He opens the door on a variety of themes he will revisit throughout his writing career. The story deals with lovers who have trouble connecting, and women who disguise themselves as men in order to find their loves. Some of the male characters go away on a trip to explore the world or to have an experience. The older man, usually a father, attempts to control the younger characters. Finally, in this script Shakespeare creates one of his best clown characters, Launce.

The Great Lakes Theater Festival's production interpolates modern music that doesn't add anything to Shakespeare's plot or to the production. Cast members sang "Pink Moon," "Breakable," "Road," "Overboard," and seven other songs. This music merely adds to the confusion in the production.

Russell Metheny (scenic designer) has created a set which could pass for a stylized Elizabethan set. It is multi-level and fits this production. Unfortunately, Star Moxley (costume designer) created costumes that left me wondering what the time frame of the production might be. Some of the characters wear long coats, with boots and hats, which make them look like they stepped out of the American West (think of "Bonanza" and similar TV cowboy shows). The lack of a specific time setting makes the production less accessible.

Many Cleveland theatergoers brag of seeing Tom Hanks play Proteus in a production of Two Gentlemen of when Great Lakes Theatre Festival and Hanks were starting their careers. Hanks has made significant contributions to the the company—in fact, the theater's bar was named the Tom Hanks-Rita Wilson Bar.

Unfortunately, this production desperately needs a young Tom Hanks to bring it to life. The actors and the director work hard to make the production work—but the result is simply lackluster.

The best moments in the show are the scenes between Launce (David Anthony Smith) and his dog, Crab (Moho). Smith brings the production to life with his easy delivery of Shakespeare's lines. Smith is an excellent actor who once again proves he can act—and can manage a dog. Neil Brookshire and Paul Hurley do an excellent job of creating the best friends Valentine and Proteus, who are in love with love and are interested in exploring the world (well, maybe other parts of Italy), yet the two actors manage to create distinct characters.

This production of Two Gentlemen of Verona is an exercise in swimming upstream by the performers, director and technical crew. However, it deserves our attention because it's so rarely produced.

Two Gentlemen of Verona will continue through April 23, 2011, in the Hanna Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, Cleveland, Ohio. For ticket information, telephone 216-241-6000 or visit www.greatlakestheater.org.

Two Gentlemen of Verona closes the Great Lakes Theatre Festival's 2010-2011 season. Next season promises to be one of the best seasons in the GLTF in several years. The 2011-2012 season includes: Cabaret (Sept. 23 - Oct. 30, 2011), The Taming of the Shrew (Sept. 30-Oct. 29, 2011), A Christmas Carol (Dec. 2-23, 2011), The Mousetrap (March 9-25, 2012), Romeo and Juliet (April 13-28, 2012), and Sondheim on Sondheim (May 30-June 17, 2012).

Two Gentlemen of Verona
By William Shakespeare
Valentine: Neil Brookshire
Proteus: Paul Hurley
Speed: M.A. Taylor
Julia: Lee Stark
Lucetta: Jodi Dominick
Antonio: Dudley Swetland
Panthino: Robert Williams
Silvia: Nika Erickson
Launce: David Anthony Smith
Crab: Mojo/ Rallo
Thurio: Eduardo Placer
Duke: Aled Davies
Outlaws: Sara M. Bruner, Jodi Dominick, Robert Williams
Host: Sara M. Bruner
Eglamour: Eric Perusek
Music Director: Matthew Webb
Percussion: Andrew Pongracz
Director: Charles Fee
Scenic Designer: Russell Metheny
Costume Designer: Star Moxley
Lighting Designer: Michael Chybowski
Sound Engineer: Peter John Still
Stage Manager: Corrie E. Purdum

- David Ritchey



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