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The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Zachary Fine and Andy Grotelueschen
Photo by Gerry Goodstein

Love is a many-splendored thing in Fiasco Theater's giddy production of William Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a presentation of Theatre for a New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center. It can bring us floating-on-clouds joy when it is mutually reciprocated, and it can just as easily take us on a journey to the depths of jealousy and despair when it is unrequited.

Co-directed with great comic flair by Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld, this early effort by the Bard is filled with themes and characterizations that would come to greater fruition later in his career. So even though this is not Shakespeare at his best, what fun it is to see the budding elements of what would blossom down the road into A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night, with perhaps a prototype of the deceitful Iago from Othello thrown into the mix.

"Buds" and "blossoms" are the right words to use in describing the production, in which the cast of six come breezing in dressed in linen and pastel hues designed by Whitney Locher—the perfect embodiment of springtime, when love is in the air. Proteus (Noah Brody) is in love with Julia (Ms. Austrian), and she with him. The two of them act like moony adolescents, sighing about each other to their companions and secretly passing notes back and forth, all to the amusement of Proteus's good friend Valentine (Zachary Fine). That is, until Valentine meets up with Sylvia (Emily Young) and is instantly smitten himself.

The goofiness of the love-struck abounds, until the plot takes a sudden turn toward the dark side. Proteus decides that—forget Julia—he, too, is in love with Sylvia. He is consumed with a jealous passion that brings out the worst in him, harming both Julia and Valentine in his obsession.

All eventually ends up well, of course, and while the Fiasco company pays heed to Proteus's treachery, that side of the story is treated as if it were the effect of love's madness, a temporary and forgivable insanity. As soon as Proteus recants his wicked ways, he is welcomed back by both Valentine and Julia, with seemingly no lasting harm done.

Where the actors (Andy Grotelueschen and Paul L. Coffey round out the cast) excel is in mining the play for every bit of comedy it holds. Because Valentine is generally seen as a proper gentleman, it is quite funny to see Mr. Fine change his demeanor when he is caught up in the intoxication of love. He is terrific in this part, and he also is thoroughly delightful as he takes on the role of Crab, the flea-bitten dog who is much loved by his master, the servant Launce, one of Shakespeare's great clown characters gleefully embodied by Mr. Grotelueschen.

It is true that Shakespeare waited until Twelfth Night before having someone utter the line, "If music be the food of love, play on." But music is very much a part of the lovefest that is The Two Gentlemen of Verona, as the cast members periodically take up one of the guitars and other instruments that sit on the side of the stage and perform a version of Shakespeare's own "Who Is Sylvia," as well as the folk tune "The Blackest Crow," and even a bit of Bach performed on the cello. None of it seems out of place in the least, and the music simply adds to the pleasure of the evening.

Following Fiasco Theater's earlier well-received productions of Shakespeare's Cymbeline and the James Lapine/Stephen Sondheim musical Into The Woods, the company's The Two Gentlemen of Verona, clocking in at just over two hours, is as welcome as the long-awaited springtime weather.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Through May 24
Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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