BWW Reviews: Fiasco's THE TWO GENTLEMEN (One Gentleman) OF VERONA Couldn't Be More Charming

BWW Reviews: Fiasco's THE TWO GENTLEMEN (One Gentleman) OF VERONA Couldn't Be More Charming

Fiasco Theatre's production of Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona, delights and impresses. Lighthearted and gay (as in "keenly alive and exuberant"), the six-member ensemble's streamlined presentation of the tale is filled with chuckles and bubbles, buffoonery and romantic jests.

What you won't find playing at Folger Theatre, however, is a worthy play, much less a play by the god of American theatre, albeit a Brit. So what does this Verona prove? That a company of imaginative, charming actors can turn a veritable mound of punning iambic pentameter into a fun evening of entertainment, even if that mound's story stretches credulity and good sense and much less virtue beyond the pale of any sensibility. In other words, fun's to be had; just don't expect wisdom or any other form of illumination other than stage lights.

The problem? Shakespeare should have named his play: "The One Gentleman of Verona and his Scumbag Friend." Now, this is not to discredit the necessity of forgiveness, which is seemingly the play's theme, but then that would fall on Fiasco to find a way to have this play end with forgiveness enjoined but not without forgetting Proteus's betrayal, or--as the famous Russian proverb goes--"Trust but Verify." Perhaps, seemingly intelligent Julia should have agreed to marry Proteus's sorry ass only because she has nowhere else to turn.

But enough of dead playwrights and worthless tales.

Fiasco's production of the inane breaths vigor into old bones. The young ensemble is led by Noah Brody's utterly charming Proteus--yes, even backstabbing bastards can be charming (in fact, they have to be). Brody's charm is so pervasive that you might find yourself overlooking the fact that he probably wouldn't mind killing you to win his love. In modern vernacular we call that kind of person a sociopath.

Fiasco founder Jessie Austrian plays the initial object of Proteus's mad love, Julia, the woman whom he then proclaims dead, but who then agrees to marry him even though he clearly doesn't love her anymore. Nevertheless, Austrain, who also co-directs with the ensemble's seventh member Ben Steinfeld, enamors us with her desperation. She is also charming; in fact, the whole company's middle name should be "charming,' because they are, "charming".

Zachary Fine plays Proteus's friend Valentino, who is banished because of Proteus's betrayal and thus faces possible death by bandits (fortunately, Robin Hood lives.) Fine's Valentino is quite the bomb, as he gesticulates his affections with nonstop enthusiasm. Fine's cur, however, steals the show with his puppy dog face, and he doesn't have say a word, much less a pun.

The object of Valentino's amours, and whose slender physique then inspires Proteus to lie, cheat, stab, and defame, is the haughty Sylvia, played with simple clarity and devout virtue by Emily Young. Her other character, the commedia-inspired Lucetta, amuses with her high heels and hips, cleverly turning phrases as she does heads.

Paul L. Coffey plays the servant Speed and the suitor Thurio. He gives both a distinct comic sensibility. His Speed has authenticity and mildness while his Thurio, all the high minded satire that the form allows.

The buffoon of the evening goes to Andy Grotelueschen's Lance, the owner of Find's cur. This farcical character takes the audience on a tour of low humor's mad antics.

The able production team consists of James Kronzer with scenic design, Whitney Locher with costumes, Tim Cryan with lights, and dramaturgy by Michele Osherow.

To be sure, the company's absolute reliance on the bare stage, their actor-chops, and their sense of the streamline elevates this production, and probably their productions in general, to the memorable. Whether they are greeting the audience before the show or during intermission, or watching the show from their seats on stage, Fiasco's take on Shakespeare has a youthful distinction that is infectious.

Two Gentlemen, aka One Gentleman, plays at Folger Theatre through May 25, when it will then be followed by a short run of Fiasco's Cymbeline. Info and tickets can be found here.

Photo Credit: Emily Young (Sylvia) showers the stage with letters in The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Folger Theatre, April 17 - May 25, 2014. Photo by Jeff Malet.

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Robert Michael Oliver Poet, Performer, Theatre Artist, Playwright, Educator, Writer--Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., has been involved in the DC arts scene since the 1980s, when he co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in the old sanctuary of Calvary United Methodist Church. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theatre from University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theatre as a reviewer over the last two years than he saw in the previous thirty. He now co-directs, along with his wife Elizabeth Bruce, the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project, which organizes a host of writing and performance workshops, plus Mementos: Poetry and Performance for Seniors, a yearly literature-in-performance Fringe Festival show, as well as Performetry--a monthly poetry and prose performance event at DC's community arts & culture center BloomBars.

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