A few days ago, on a beautiful Sunday Afternoon, I made my way to Frick Park to see Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks’ production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Beneath a canopy of trees, I sat before a circle of rope, listening to local artists Andy Cole and Matt Calvetti serenade the crowd with some dulcet guitar. As the musicians wound down and the show began, I was immediately struck by a vaudevillian clown vibe. Perhaps this was due to the costumes; the large, grey, wide-legged pants that came high enough to display the actors’ striped or polka-dotted socks were a staple. Almost every actor wore this accompanied by a pair of suspenders, usually red as the color scheme is a greyscale with a red pop. I found the costuming to be one of the first things I noticed about the show, it was so uniform in its unique styling, even the musicians were dressed in this fashion. I felt the opening scene benefited from this immediate sense of tomfoolery, which introduced the slap-stick humor that was carried throughout the show. In the first moments of the play, Valentine (Isaiah Jahir Christian) and Proteus (Nick Benninger) discuss love and the follies therein while demonstrating the oversized pockets on Proteus’ pants. As they explored the occasional teasing between friends underscored by true affection, Christian and Benninger found a lovely balance between the classic tone of Shakespeare and the vaudevillian style of this adaptation.
I was surprised by the lack of an intermission, and probably could have done with one around the time Proteus was setting his traps, but the show was well cut and certainly on the shorter side of Shakespeare. This, trimmed, Two Gents was fast-paced and full of belly-laughs by the audience. The women in the cast were particularly favored, Christine McGrath as Sylvia earned her share of chuckles with her perfected fan, ‘thworp’s and sassy come-backs. In one scene, as she continued to deny the loathsome Proteus, her face contorted into a particularly hilarious menacing glare that delighted the crowd. Jennifer Tober, playing the parts of PSIP’s Artistic Director as well as doubling the characters Lance and Thurio, was a wonderful fool through and through.
I appreciate when a group who loves Shakespeare has no fear of messing around with it. This crew made good use of that, trying something new and not taking it all so seriously. At one point in the show, a member of the audience is asked to perform a one-line walk-on character, which made an already funny scene even more entertaining with the addition of a never again-seen character being played by some random person running into the playing area to deliver a line and then returning to their lawn chair. PSIP also didn’t stray from poking fun at what they were doing; they pushed farther into it when things didn’t go exactly as planned. In trying to keep Shakespeare light and fun, when Julia (Sadie Crow) decides to dress as a man to travel to Verona, she dons an inflatable codpiece which her friend and servant Lucetta (Elizabeth Farina) straps Julia into, yet the two actresses had quite a bit of trouble getting the piece on and inflated. The audience found this moment especially enjoyable, as the two acknowledged the difficulty and made the situation funny, rather than awkward, to watch.
This is another example of a show that honors Shakespeare by adapting it and running with that adaptation. I maintain that the best kind of Shakespeare is the Shakespeare that doesn’t act like Shakespeare, and PSIP’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona acts like a smart group of actors making complete fools of themselves. You can catch the show in Highland Park on Sept. 8th & 9th, Arsenal Park on Sept. 15th & 16th, and closing in Frick Park on Sept. 22nd & 23rd.
Tickets are free but you can find more information about Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks here.
Categories: Archived Reviews