Thursday 13 July 2017

Verona's Two Gents amusing & lite with a twist
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : My favourite author Nobel laureate Alice Munro titled her 10th short story collection (2002) Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. Whether on the mark in the least or not, it is certainly arguable that Munro chanced upon her title as a prim precis of Wm Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona. (To flesh out this drift a few additional nuance-words such as "ambition", "lust", "hypocrisy", "betrayal" &c. would be in order as well).

Written as a 20-something when WS was first starting out -- many historians think it his first play, perhaps -- four centuries of critics agree on one thing at least : the play presents little by way of true substance. 

Still, T2GoV clearly captures some of the exquisite pangs-&-pain that Spring fever produces in hot young bloods. And does so with vintage Billy Bard finesse. Says the duplicitous protagonist Proteus early on, "O, how this spring of love resembleth / The uncertain glory of an April day / Which now shows all the beauty of the sun / And by and by a cloud takes all away!"

A touch between Silvia (Adele Nironha) and Valentine (Nadeem Phillip) is all it takes.
David Blue photo.

How it's all put together :  Proteus and Valentine are gentry'd buddies who've grown up together. Their camaraderie is a fraternal love bond : they are tight as mates, "two brothers from a different mother". Proteus however has fallen arse-over-teakettle in love with the fair Julia. Valentine sniggers that love is "but a folly bought with wit / Or else a wit by folly vanquished." So Valentine heads 30 leagues west for gentlemanly grooming in the Duke of Milan's entourage. In leaving he predicts his pal Proteus will just continue to loll around Verona "living dully sluggariz'd at home" and "wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness".

But not quite so. Promptly after exchanging engagement rings and a mouthful of sweet nothings with Julia, Proteus is peremptorily ordered by Dad to join Valentine at the Duke's. Maybe some noble grace will rub off on him, too. Julia is heartsick. Despite a swack of skepticism from her maid Lucetta, she decides to don a disguise as "Sebastian", a page, and pursue Proteus to Milan to swoon anew in his arms.

In Greek mythology Proteus was the elder son of Poseiden known by some as the "god of elusive sea change", a character "mutable". For its part the name Valentine stems from the Latin meaning "strong and worthy". These WS characters quite follow suit. 

Almost instantly upon arrival, the love-skeptic Valentine is smitten by the Duke's daughter Silvia. She snatches his "strong and worthy" heart 100%. When he shows up soon thereafter, meanwhile, the "mutable" Proteus decides he wants Silvia for himself : his betrothed Julia is now "dead" to him. Without a soupcon of guilt or conscience he quickly betrays the young about-to-elope couple to the Duke. 

Manservant Launce (Andrew Cownden) with dog Crab (Gertie the Basset Hound) in an animated moment.
David Blue photo.
His bosom buddy Valentine is promptly banished, thus Proteus is free to pursue his quarry. And pursue he does, even after admitting to himself that "Sylvia is too fair, too true, too holy / To be corrupted with my worthless gifts." She is / She isn't. But not for want of trying : he even elects to force himself on her in a controversial attempted rape scene for which Valentine, not Silvia, presumes to forgive him.

Some reflection on the script : Shakespeare scholar A. L. Rowse, among others, opines that WS's ending to T2GoV was written all in a rush and/or was dictated by the actors in the troupe Lord Chamberlain's Men that included some fellows named Crosse, Slye & Poope (sic). Methinks must needs be so. Because ne'r was "a happy ending for all" less likely or warranted by its preceding plot sequences and character faults. But thankfully not so simple an ending to come on this night.

Director Scott Bellis rationalizes the original plot-&-dialogue this way : "This play rarely gets a professional staging nowadays...yet it is popular with high school and college drama programs. Like most of his comedies, it centres on themes familiar to the young : friendship, fidelity and love. Perhaps it is fitting that young people gravitate toward it...Like the Romantic poets of early 19th century Europe...these characters are expressing and acting on their emotional impulses, risking it all to ride those waves of feeling wherever they lead." To reveal the contemporized Bellis Ending in 2017 to this 1589 script would do neither him nor his troupe justice, so I shan't.

The honest Valentine (Nadeem Phillip) has to cope with his disloyal comrade Proteus (Charlie Gallant).
David Blue photo.
T2GoV as written demonstrates key Billy Bard comedy components that he will hone and perfect as time goes by : the men tend to be gullible, somewhat shallow nits, while thru their moxie-&-courage the women stand and deliver the best lines by far. As well, the comic relief of the manservant clowns Speed (Chirag Naik) and Launce (Andrew Cownden) along-side his pissy dog Crab was spot on, some of the best such stuff WS ever wrote i.m.o. (The latter two are show stealers for sure.)

Production values that shine through : Three primary values drive this production. Director Scott Bellis's decision to take Billy Bard's original romantic comedy and : do it up as modern farce-&-slapstick; interject present day laugh lines; hyperbolize Proteus's numerous innate character flaws; insert ironic cross-dressing of the outlaws into this male-only Elizabethan script. All of it served his unquestionably welcome feminist spin on the show. 

Second was the engagement of Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg to choreograph Bellis's interpretation. Her various dance routines across the night were manic and chipper additions that replaced chunks of dialogue (including some quoted at the top of this piece). It hi-lited the strong backslapping huggy bromance leitmotif WS intended regardless how blatantly sexist such frat-boy stuff appears to today's eye.

Third was the decision of Bellis and Costume Designer Mara Gottler to outfit the cast in Romantic 19th century threads. From the rich and sumptuous to the funky and earthy, they all worked wonderfully well. Piss, dirt, booze, perfume -- we smelled it all just by looking.

Footnote kudos as well to Sound Designer Julie Casselman whose romantic violins & cellos & string bass percussion enriched the visuals on stage nicely.

Acting pin-spots : Nadeem Phillip's Valentine was impassioned joy and hurt both, while opposite Charlie Gallant's at times shouty Proteus was a cleverly-projected pathetic character throughout. The byplay between Kate Besworth as the "jiltee" Julia with her maidservant Lucetta (Carmela Sison) was swell stuff. But it was Adele Noronha's Silvia that to this viewer married the original WS character with the contemporary version everso smartly. Her endless dripping sarcasm at Proteus was priceless. Typically for Bard shows, not a weak performance anywhere -- too many pin-spots to index each and every one individually.

Who gonna like : As with Taming of the Shrew, our more egalitarian sensibilities now than back-in-the-day make the subject matter of T2GoV difficult to embrace freely. But Billy Bard's plot twists and character manipulations and "stupid human tricks" demonstrate that in our 1st world enclave it truly is a case of plus ca change, plus c'est meme chose on so many levels. 

As usual, the Howard Family Stage is a welcome place to be embraced by the magic the Bard troupes regularly conjure. No question this a slickly delivered show with visual and audial richness that found the opening night crowd laughing out loud throughout and giving up many a hearty Huzzah! at curtain. 

Particulars : Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Artistic Director Christopher Gaze. At the Howard Family stage, Vanier Park. Performances : 35 shows between now and the September 20th closer. Schedule & ticket information @ bardonthebeach.orgRun-time 120 minutes including intermission. 

Production crew :  Director Scott Bellis. Costume Designer Mara Gottler.  Scenery Designer Marshall McMahen.  Lighting Designer Adrian Muir.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews. Choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg. Fight Director Josh Reynolds.  Sound Designer Julie Casselman.  Stage Manager Joanne P.B. Smith.  Assistant Stage Manager Ruth Bruhn. Apprentice Stage Manager Jennifer Stewart.  Directing Apprentice Kayla Dunbar. Costume Design Apprentices Hannah Case, Alex Kirkpatrick.

Performers :  Kate Besworth (Julia).  Andrew Cownden (Launce). Paul Moniz de Sa (Antonio; Eglamour).  Edward Foy (Duke of Milan). Charlie Gallant (Proteus).  Gertie the Basset Hound (Crab). Olivia Hutt (Hostess).  Luisa Jojic (Pantina). Chirag Naik (Speed).  Adele Noronha (Silvia).  Kamyar Pazandeh (Turio).  Nadeem Phillip (Valentine).  Carmela Sison (Lucetta). 

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