Ooh my little pretty one, pretty one.
When you gonna give me some time, Sil-via?
Ooh you make my motor run, my motor run.
Gun it comin’ off the line Sil-via
Never gonna stop, give it up…
My my my i yi woo. M M M My Sil-via…!
Director Raphael Parry and Shakespeare Dallas just slammed the proverbial ball out of the park, Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre and Addison Circle Park, to be specific, in producing Shakespeare’s comedy Two Gentlemen of Verona. A home run, it’s hip, cool, fun, engaging, as easy to follow as it is on the eye, and as sure to please the novice Shakespeare in the Park attendee as it is a long term aficionado.
Theatre companies often choose to mount the Bard in modern dress, with contemporary sensibility and convention, extensive script cuts and the addition of popular culture elements (such as pop songs) in order to attract wider and younger audiences that might abstain from perceived “traditional” productions. In Two Gentlemen of Verona, not only does the modernizing transformation liven up the play quite a bit, it allows the play’s integral plot structure to shine with genuine relevance concerning dilemmas over friendship and romance. Key characters don’t get buried behind complex language burdens and find natural ways to develop clear arcs of transformation, while maintaining the sense of Shakespeare’s script and integrity in portrayal.
And when the wooing of the Milanese Senator’s elegant daughter Silvia erupts as cast members (led by heart-throb Alex Organ as lead Proteus on cordless microphone) deliver a surprise song and dance rendition of the 1979 pop hit by The Knack, “My Sharona”, adapted as “My Silvia”, the audience responds with an exuberant, virtual group hug.
Casting the right actors in key roles sends this play into full bloom. As his two leading men, young noblemen with high aspirations and genuine affection for one another, Raphael Parry cast Marcus Stimac as Valentine and Alex Organ as Proteus. Handsome and virile to a GQ fault, each brings real chops to the task, mastering the language with skill and clarity and conveying conviction based in total sincerity. They create believable portrayals of men who, as true friends, forge a path to forgiveness and love, after direst betrayal. Worthy love objects with plenty of verve and personality, themselves, Nicole Berastequi as tall, cool Silvia and Jenny Ledel as spunky, resourceful Julia provide fine symmetry and ballast to the griddle hot Stimac/Organ romancing duo.
Ledel makes badly wronged Julia’s suffering so tangible, so encompassing, that she inspires tears, in sympathy at first for her sad plight then with joy at her love’s redemption…all the while giving a Chaplin-like comic turn in her iconic “trouser role”. So many layered dramatic levels interwoven with confidence and ease by one still in the dawn of her stage career is simply awe-inspiring.
Supporting the dynamic four is an equally sterling cast. Droll Anthony L. Ramirez as comic relief ne’er do well Uncle Launce tickles the audience’s funny bone every time he and trusty, fat hound Crabbe saunter across the stage. Randy Lee Chronister as Servant Speed and Aaron Roberts as lisping, clueless, shamelessly unsuitable suitor Thurio spin lovable, farcical contrast to the “manly” leads without descending into cloying caricature. Michael Johnson’s impeccable diction and regal demeanor as Antonio and later Eglamour and Eric Devlin as the judicious Senator add just enough ‘grown up’ gravitas to keep the production grounded. Dual cast as outlandish, bumbling outlaws and in secondary support roles, the hyper-kinetic, attractive Anastasia Munoz, Ryan Martin and Cara L. Reid each bring something genuine and unique, either with humor or poignancy, to the production, in addition to being engagingly funny as the back-up singer/dancers in “My Silvia”.
It’s hard to create a set on this amphitheatre space that doesn’t look like the front of a generic medieval castle or a dilapidated storefront with hard to disguise, always needed doorways. Wisely, scenic designer Donna Marquet with assistant set designer Cindy Ernst painted a sweeping, simple, romantic pastel panorama of the Italian countryside across the whole upstage wall, allowing the actors to create an encompassing stage reality out front, without many props or clunky set pieces cluttering and slowing down the performance. Shakespeare’s work, when well acted and directed, doesn’t need grandiose sets and special effects to play well. Tres chic modern attire (costuming by Laurie Land with Korey Kent’s assistance), ranging from your father’s country club casual to Deep Ellum quirky eclectic, supports the production’s youthful vigor and play’s romantic themes while fostering its current relevance. Two Gentlemen of Verona will send its audience out humming The Knack’s 1979 hit tune, with sincere fondness for the joyful gems of wisdom a play written in 1590 or 1591 can still offer today.
Shakespeare Dallas’ Two Gentlemen of Verona runs through October 2 at the Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre in East Dallas then transfers to Addison Circle Park where it runs October 6-10 and October 13-17.
Tickets: www.shakespearedallas.org 214-559-2778
‘My Sharona’ by The Knack (1979) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVdnqEyToqg
#1 on Billboard’s Top Pop Singles of 1979 year-end chart, ranked at #75 on the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs in 2008
More lyrics: http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/t/the_knack/#share