From the publicity (“Shakespeare’s bromance, with no bros”) and from Joshua Engel’s pleasantly erudite director’s note, I sat down expecting No Gentlemen of Verona to be an academic’s production. That is, a loose adaptation of Shakespeare geared toward highlighting a specific theme—gender, I figured, in this case—or a radical re-appropriation of the text in the service of this Theory or that, or something in between. For better or for worse, I figured, this would be a high-concept adaptation.
I figured wrong. If there is anything higher-concept here than simply an all-female production of Two Gents, I missed it. What I did see, though, was one of the more thoughtfully directed and joyously performed productions of an obscure Shakespeare play that I’ve seen in a long time.
I won’t summarize the plot here, because (a) it would take my remaining space, (b) we have Wikipedia now, and (c) No Gentlemen’s program gives you a concise synopsis. (This is a controversial thing, I’m aware, but I for one applaud the choice, especially if it’s a lesser-known play and the synopsis, as it is here, is broad enough to give you the general idea while letting you still enjoy the particulars.) Suffice to say that this show has the cross-dressing, the pursuing and pursued lovers, the mistaken identity, and many of the other Shakespeare-comedy hallmarks.
What distinguishes this one from the others, though, is its dubiously sympathetic “protagonist” Proteus, and Kathryn Wanschura more than does the role justice. Her command of the text is steadfast, her choices are bold and specific, and her Proteus is consequently charismatic, if not necessarily likeable. Likewise, Melissa Schick endows Valentine, the play’s other male lead, with charm and stage presence to match Wanschura’s. Julia (Elise Berg) and Silvia (Lisa Hill-Corley) are just as credible; the “boys’” bravura does, at moments, seem to overpower them, but this could well be because the characters simply aren’t as well drawn.
It may be doing No Gentlemen of Verona a disservice to suggest, as I did above, that there’s no commentary in the adaptation. Perhaps it’s just more subtle than one usually sees. For instance, the scene is set in a jazzy, post-WWII world—a world which calls for strutting, alpha-male protagonists, as well as mafiosi (Rebecca Proch and Melissa Robinson as Antonio and Panthino respectively). These all offer the opportunity for some interesting depictions of gender roles, and you could argue that the all-female casting is statement enough, and it’s on the audience to interpret from there.
Whatever the intention, the world of the play is very nicely rendered, by direction and by stage design. This may be the most lushly designed Fringe show I’ve ever seen, with the costumes in particular (done by Wanschura, Heather C. Jackson, and Linda Swann) showing a gorgeous panoply of gaudy suits and stylish dresses. The hot jazz soundtrack is also a nice touch.
Engel’s direction, as well, is thoroughgoing and detailed, providing effective staging and inventive business to facilitate the characters’ journey through the plot—for instance, Rachel Duda as the hapless Thurio gets some great laughs as s/he attempts to contribute “musically” to a serenade. But some moments, however well-intentioned, fail in execution, as with an elaborate slapstick fight scene that has a potential for hilarity which is unfortunately not met.
So yes, the story we see unfold is rather silly. But I know some people who would argue that this is the point of comedies, even ones written by Shakespeare.
No Gentlemen of Verona
Adapted from Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare
Directed by Joshua Engel
Produced by The Rude Mechanicals
Reviewed by David Winkler
Running time: 90 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?