Bros before Hos
Although Shakespeare wrote some of the best poetry in the Western cannon, a few of his plays, are better left unperformed. Love’s Labor’s Lost is one, Henry VIII is another, (although I saw a stunning production by Therese Thurman one summer) and a third is Two Gentleman of Verona, currently being performed at the Slate Theatre.
Written sometime between 1589 and 1593, Two Gents was Shakespeare’s first comedy and most likely his first play. Unfortunately, there are a lot of inconsistencies, with a fairly uninteresting plot, which is pretty much carried by dialogue rather than action.
Like Love’s Labor’s Lost, its themes are the various permutations of love and friendship. The ultimate question answered in this play is whether the strong friendship of two men can survive when both are passionately in love with the same women? The fleeting nature of passionate love is discussed as well as the irrational actions of someone in the state of near psychosis, which hormonal love induces.
A play with as many faults as Two Gents takes an incredibly creative director to pull it off, Jessica Fern Hunt was not such a director. Although she assembled a cast which ranged from competent to outta-sight, the direction had even more faults than the play.
One fundamental rule of directing is to use the space. Slate Theatre-in the Inscape building, the Old Immigration jail at the edge of the International District, has two pillars in the middle of the stage. To some directors this can only be considered a misfortune, other directors find ways to use those pillars creatively. Most of the action was played in front of the pillars, that is to say using only the front half of the stage, so the actors were basically just lined up in a line in front of the audience.
Another problem was that there was no concept, we have no idea when the production was set. The resulting lack of clarity was reflected in the hodge-podge of costumes. Servants were dressed to the nines like socialites. Costumes didn’t reflect a character’s personality, status or profession. An anachronistic knight’s costume was thrown into a play with otherwise very modern looking costumes.
A few actors stood out, Janet Holloway-Thomas, played Speed, a servant, that is to say a “clown” or a minor character used to comment ironically on the silliness of the more important characters. Speaking of irong, it just dripped trippingly from their tongue! They were blessed with an interesting voice, amusing facial expressions, comic timing worthy of a Swiss made watch, and knew that in order for comedy to be effective, an actor has to play the seriousness of the reality rather than play everything for laughs. Holloway-Thomas made the complex language their own and was simply a delight.
An underutilized Will Lippman, had the vocal ability to handle Shakespeare, he delivered his lines clearly and without a lot of gimmicks. Sean Patrick Taylor who was triple cast also was able to make his lines come alive, but the triple casting didn’t quite work as the costuming was ineffective in distinguishing the characters.
For the rest of the actors, there was a lot of unnecessary gesticulating, a sure sign that they were just not connecting with the language, but reciting lines as they played everything for laughs. None of them struck me as inexperienced or incompetent, they just weren’t directed well. Some people laughed, I just felt disappointed.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Fern Shakespeare Company. The Slate Theater, Inscape Building (Old Immigration Jail) 815 Seattle Boulevard S. International District, Seattle.
Thur-Sun thru Dec. 17. Sound Transit Stop: International District. Buses 41, 74, 101, 102, 150, 255. Very Limited Parking.
Tickets and Info: https://fernshakespeare.com/nowplaying?utm_source=The+Fern+Shakespeare+Company+Press+List&utm_campaign=a12a80ff1c-