Vince Eisenson (Proteus) and Megan Dominy (Julia). Photo by Teresa Castracane
There are few things in life so satisfying as seeing a conniving cad getting his comeuppance. Unfortunately these bounders often maim many lives long before they are ever punished. This scenario played out in several celebrated trials in the early 1990′s. It is also the basis of Shakespeare’s comedy, The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona is the current offering by The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. Written around 1591, The Two Gentlemen of Verona is thought by some scholars to be Shakespeare’s earliest effort. The setting may be provincial but the theme is universal. Fast-forward the mise-en-scène four centuries, pepper the script with the entitlement mood of Generation-X, and you have the making of a feature story from People Magazine.
Moving the setting from 16th century Milan to the McMansions of the nouveau riche of the nineties is the intriguing idea of director Patrick Kilpatrick. Inspired by the trials of William Kennedy Smith and the Menendez Brothers, Kilpatrick envisioned Shakespeare’s self-serving protagonists against the backdrop of the Chablis and Camembert crowd. One could easily see the egocentric strains of Generation-X playing out on the stage and might even imagine a movie cast which would include Matthew Broderick, Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald and Demi Moore.
There are anachronisms, to be sure. A band of banished outlaws run amok in the forest and a princess locked away in a tower seem at odds with the single malt scotch, starched shirts and Izod sweaters. And when Valentine has his Leader of the Pack moment, one would have hoped the action had taken place – not in a clearing – but rather at the edge of an undeveloped cul-de-sac. Still, this production is absorbing and very entertaining.
Vince Eisenson and James Jager star as the friends from Verona, Proteus and Valentine.
Eisenson played the self-serving Proteus to the unctuous hilt. Even his moment of regret and reflection had a smarmy feel. Like the rest of the cast, Eisenson handled the Bard’s lines in an easy effortless manner, though his musical solo was at best ill-advised.
Jager’s Valentine was smiling and sincere, as the pampered youth caught in a half-baked scheme. Later, he was honestly outraged by the duplicity of his alleged best friend. When he finally stood up to the scoundrel and his conspiratorial cadre, Jager showed nice range as he made the transition from pinheaded boy to purposeful man.
The leading men kept the audience in the game, but it was Megan Dominy as Julia who stood out among the principal players. Dominy lit up the stage as the coy but charming maiden who is forced to disguise herself as a lad in the halls of Milan. Her joy in her engagement was as palpable as was the hurt in her betrayal at the hands of the blackguard Proteus. This was Dominy’s first appearance with CSC. I hope it is not her last.
Conversely, the only real disappointment in the cast was Ty Hallmark as Silvia. Hallmark handled the dialogue well enough, but her performance was decidedly one-dimensional. Dressed in a distracting plaid Pendleton skirt which did her no justice, Hallmark lacked the allure which is essential to make the audience believe she could turn the heads of these self-serving swains.
Jose Guzman as Launce and Jessica Shearer as Speed had the crowd in stitches with their turns as the servants of Proteus and Valentine. And an uncredited, scene-stealing canine named Norton appeared as Launce’s dog Crab. Norton reminded the audience why W.C. Fields once said an actor should, “Never work with animals or children.”
Michael P. Sullivan was convincing as the Brooks Brothers-tailored Duke of Milan and seemed to channel the best (and perhaps the worst) of a Glenfiddich tippling Mitt Romney.
The rest of the supporting cast includes Jenny Leopold, Jonas David Grey, Frank B. Moorman and Greg Burgess. All do well in multiple parts, with Grey as Panthino/Thurio making the most of his time on stage.
There are about ten live musical performances in this production, most as ensemble pieces book-ending the show. The actors play their own instruments and do the vocals on familiar Gen-X anthems. Some voices are better than others but that is part of the fun.
This is the company’s first production at The Other Barn in Columbia as the group readies for a major move to a new location in downtown Baltimore. The Other Barn proved to be a nice venue, but please be aware that the folding chairs can be a bit hard on the spine. Be sure to move around at intermission. Refreshments are offered in the lounge area. The space was also chilly on the evening I saw the show; it is after all a barn. Consider bringing a sweater or a wrap if you see the show on a frosty night.
The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona runs now through March 17 at The Other Barn, 5851 Robert Oliver Place, Columbia, Maryland. Approximate running time is two hours and fifteen minutes, with one intermission. Tickets and other information may be found here.