The Two Gentlemen Of Verona at the Jungle Theater

Mo Perry and Lenne Klingaman in the  Jungle Theater's Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo: Heidi Bohnenkamp

Mo Perry and Lenne Klingaman in the Jungle Theater’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo: Heidi Bohnenkamp

Is The Two Gentlemen Of Verona (at the Jungle Theater through March 27) William Shakespeare‘s first play? Possibly (scholars will never agree on this), but perhaps the honor belongs to The Comedy Of Errors or to The Taming Of The Shrew.

No matter. Like many of the greatest-writer-who-ever-lived’s early work, Two Gents has an ersatz Italian setting (though there’s zilch evidence that Shakespeare ever left England). The scenes, one after the other, are directly from merrie 16th century England. They depend on ferocious word-play; that’s a pun, son; rhymed couplets; fake-energy; back-and-forth wit; loud posing. And, well, it has to be said, not a whole lot happening. The Two Gentlemen Of Verona lacks the giddy momentum, the narrative muscularity of the bard’s more “mature” work. Will lets us get ahead – waaaaaaay ahead – of his two principals as they elbow each other for the affections of their beautiful beloveds.

But who cares! Shakespeare has a great time with this material and so, unless you have serious personal problems, will you. The theme of romantic inconstancy is followed to a T. The men, led by scenery-chewing Proteus, exude comic infidelity; the women are true as sword steel. (This theme of twisted romance is developed by the most-fab-playwright-who-ever bestrode-the-planet in many – most – of his comedies). The rest of the cast attacks the material with laudable zest. The scenes have a goofy and catchy energy. Bear-as-Crab will charm your socks off. The set (designed wonderfully by Andrew Boyce, lit by the great Barry Browning) and costumes (Moira Sine Clinton) thrill, pinkfully.

And the acting is real good. Director Sarah Rasmussen (in her debut as the Jungle’s artistic director) gives us an all-female Two Gents, a nifty flip-side-of-the-coin from Shakespeare’s all-male productions. I giggled every time the marvelous Wendy Lehr limped onstage as Speed. Where on earth did the accomplished Laura Adams find that perfect pixie wig? As the two men, Christiana Clark and Mo Perry provide play-driving energy. Shá Cage was not in great voice, but physically she (he?) charmed me utterly. And George Keller as Lance and the Duke. Boffo.

But I confess I preferred the women playing the women. I was completely enamored of Sylvia (Lenne Klingaman) and Julia (Maggie Chestovich). And the lean and powerful Barbara Kingsley slew me. Talk about an actor getting better with age.

And Bear. The start of, one can only hope, a long theatrical career.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book about the magic of bedtime stories, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, has been published. John just finished the audio book adaptation (reading the material himself) and a Chinese translation is in progress. His adaptation of Art Dog will play shortly at the Denver Children’s Theatre. In progress: a theatrical portrait of the great Anna May Wong. For more info, please visit John’s website.

 

 

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