While some versions of Two Gentlemen of Verona balance the pathos and the irony, making it a truer tragicomedy, the GreenStage rendition leans heavily on the humorous side of the scale. Adapted and directed by Jennifer Crooks, the play features an all-female cast, most of whom play multiple roles. Jordan Kerns plays Proteus, a lusty young man who’s ready to sabotage his best friend’s happiness if it means enhancing his own. Marena Kleinpeter plays Julia, the loyal girlfriend of Proteus who has the guts and the wiles to fight for her relationship. Ashley Salazar plays Valentine the loyal friend to Proteus and latecomer lothario. Mimi Santos plays Silvia, the steadfast girlfriend of Valentine who’s not afraid to speak her mind. The characterizations are strong and Shakespeare’s language is delivered both clearly and naturally. These actors are comfortable in their roles and their enjoyment is evident. The players inhabit the numerous characters with care, guiding the play through the trials and tribulations of two young men and the women they love.
The plot is simple and centers on the tension between love and friendship. Two male best friends, Valentine and Proteus live it up together in Verona. Their conversation is full of witty, bawdy banter and often centers on talk of women. Proteus is desperately in love with his girlfriend Julia, (and to a great extent himself); Valentine, despite his suggestive name, makes fun of his friend’s love folly while abhorring the idea of being in love. The happy party breaks up when Valentine leaves Verona to seek his fortune in Milan. Proteus refuses to accompany Valentine, because he can’t bear to leave his beloved Julia. Valentine once in Milan, defies his own self-belief and promptly falls in love with Silvia. The language is rich, amusing and deftly delivered. Proteus ever the master of melodrama tells his grieving friend Valentine about Silvia’s reaction to their forced separation. He talks of Silvia’s crying with a “sea of melting pearls.” When Valentine loses hope, Proteus advises him that, “Hope is a lover’s staff; walk hence with that.” The irony being that Proteus is himself like a collapsing clown when it comes to managing his own emotions and to counsel his friend in this mature manner makes him even more ridiculous. As we might expect from a romantic comedy, the rest of the play continues to explore the vagaries of love and friendship and true to Shakespeare’s style; offers us characters in disguise, double-crossing and even danger. However, being played for laughs helps keep the more sinister elements of the play at bay.
As well as the comedy of the plot and characterizations, the play becomes even more entertaining as it often breaks the fourth wall. On more than one occasion the players co-opt members of the audience to play silent roles. Jordan Kerns playing Proteus is particularly skillful at keeping track of her own character while quickly coaching the audience member to play their part. The audience really enjoyed the stage-crossing and humor that ensued. Another quirky aspect of this play was the non-human character-Crab the dog. Crab is the unwelcome companion of Proteus’ servant Launce. Kudos to the Greenstage costume designers who cleverly fashioned a big shaggy dog out of several mop heads.
Greenstage’s Two Gentlemen of Verona is guaranteed to make you laugh and add a sparkle to any summer afternoon.
GreenStage presents the Backyard Bard series including Two Gentlemen of Verona. Several upcoming performances around Seattle, through August 18. Free admission but donation welcome. See website for details: https://greenstage.org/backyard-bard/