Rarely, if ever, would you match up the pop song “Hey Jealousy” by The Gin Blossoms with William Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. But Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of the classic blends in some modern-day elements and the match-up works.
The play opens on best friends Valentine (James Jager) and Proteus (Vince Eisenson) discussing their looming separation. Valentine is heading to Milan to serve in the royal court. Proteus, meanwhile, has chosen to follow his heart by staying behind. He’s fallen for Julia (Megan Dominy). Soon, we discover she’s done the same.
As the story progresses, in this instance cut by musical numbers as far reaching as The Magnetic Field’s “Book of Love” to “Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric/The Monkees, Proteus’ father sends him to Milan to gain experience in the world. There he discovers Valentine has fallen in love with the Duke’s (Michael P. Sullivan) daughter Silvia (Ty Hallmark).
The Duke, though, has promised Silvia to the wealthy Thurio (Jonas David Grey). Upon seeing Silvia, Proteus creates and puts into a motion a plan that will forsake his best friend, his love, the Duke (who shows him kindness), Thurio and Silva herself, who has fallen in love with Valentine.
To put things bluntly, Proteus is kind of a bastard.
The play can be staged in many different ways, and it’s difficult to stage it without the audience despising Proteus. But Eisenson injects enough passion and charm into Proteus to at least keep the audience interested in his escapades. Meanwhile, Jager gives Valentine a wide-eyed puppy dog disposition (but this is one puppy dog who shouldn’t be messed with).
The stars of the show, though, are Launce (Jose Guzman) and Speed (Jessica Shearer Wilson), two of the cartoonish servants who serve as the fools in this work. Guzman, in particular, shines with his larger-than-life antics and, of course, Crab the Dog(played by King Charles spaniel Norton).
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Closes March 17, 2013
The Other Barn
5851 Robert Oliver Place
Thursdays thru Sundays
All of this takes place on a bare stage, with nothing more than a wooden platform dressing it. The only discernable props are the beepers Valentine and Proteus confusingly carry about. In fact, other than the random musical interludes and the current, fairly basic, everyday clothing (save for the servants, who were dressed somewhat like grinder monkeys), the beepers were the only thing that made clear this was a modern-day version of the play.
The songs themselves didn’t update the play to modern times so much as serve to set a mood throughout. And instead of choosing a raucous, partying vibe, most of the pop tunes offered a somber, reflective one. That isn’t to say the mood didn’t work: this production was more focused on the love shared between the many men and women who had found it (in whatever confusing arrangement it has appeared) than on the rollicking and rock’n’rolling of Valentine and Proteus. Though the play was billed as “Shakespeare’s Original Bromance,” the focus is on romance.
But that propels it forward, and when it reaches its explosive confrontational end, it’s the romance that’s at stake. And it’s the romance that lingers long after the comedy has dissipated.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare . Directed by Patrick Kilpatrick . featuring Vince Eisensen (Proteus), James Jager (Valentine), Ty Hallmark (Sylvia), Megan Dominy (Julia) with Greg Burgess, Jose Guzman, Jonas David Grey, Jenny Leopold, Frank Moorman, and Michael P. Sullivan . Costume design: Kristina Lambdin, Props design: Pam Weiner, Musical direction: Scott Farquhar . Produced by Chesapeake Shakespeare Company . Reviewed by Travis Andrews .