The Two Gentlemen of Verona By William Shakespeare Directed by P.J. Paparelli; Shakespeare Theatre Company at the Lansburgh Theatre to March 4 OMG, Shakespeare can text message!

Sylvia Fissure: Proteus and Valentine both love the same woman.

Shakespeare scholars date The Two Gentlemen of Verona at or near the very beginning of the Bard’s body of work. The titular gentles are men only just, and the piece itself remains a lumbering, impulsive adolescent with limbs all disproportionate to its body. Story seeds that would flower beautifully later in Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night (and other works) stick out here like pimples on prom night, and tonally the thing may as well take place atop the San Andreas Fault. In brief: Proteus (named for the mythical shapeshifter) abandons his lover, Julia, and sells out his best friend, Valentine, before attempting to rape Sylvia, Valentine’s girl. Proteus’ repentance once Valentine gives him an 11-line tongue-lashing (to which director P.J. Paparelli has added a blood-capsule-smeary wrestling match) is abrupt but plausible enough. That all concerned forgive his vile crimes instantly? Nutballs! That upon burying the hatchet with his brah, Valentine selflessly offers to hand over Sylvia, who loves him, to Proteus, her would-be rapist? Huh. And you say we don’t force our ninth-graders to read this one?

David Bevington, who edited the Complete Works of Shakespeare that’s been making my bookshelves sag since college, is of the learned opinion that even if all this didn’t seem quite as batty to sophisticated audiences of the early 1590s as it does now, it probably still registered as weird. So this just might be the Bard of Avon thumbing his nose at his medium as impishly as his descendants Trey Parker and Matt Stone do.

Since there’s no solving the arbitrary and mutable attitudes and motivations, Papparelli dials up the camp while making some grating moves to contemporize things. Scene-setting surtitles are appended with eye-rolling kickers (“At court. A nightclub. The kind with $20 drinks. Ouch.”), and Walt Spangler has tattooed his aluminum-paneled, oven-interior set with familiar corporate logos to suggest an anonymous status-conscious suburb. (One wonders if Shakespeare Theatre Company thought of asking the fast-food joint, the brewing company, the bank, or the condom maker to kick in some sponsorship dollars.) Two catwalks enable some impressively spry fight choreography by Paul Dennhardt in Act 2. Paparelli stops the action to have his cast sing Glee-earnest versions of semi-contemporary pop songs now and again, including not one but two U2 songs (squirm-inducing, and I promise I have more U2 in my iTunes library than you do). The exiled outlaws in the woods (there are exiled outlaws in the woods) open one scene with a drunken singalong of The Divinyls’ 1991 hit “I Touch Myself,” which is, no mistake, a fabulous song, but its inclusion here seems more than a little, well, masturbatory. Using tunes that kids who’re 17 years old in 2012 actually listen to would’ve made more sense, though they’d probably be unrecognizable to the average Shakespeare Theatre ticket-buyer and, let’s be honest, to me.

All this desperate embroidery—OMG, I forgot to tell you that some characters totally communicate by text message in a Shakespeare play, LOL!—mostly feels about as hip and necessary as your Dockers-wearing dad reciting Odd Future lyrics. The cast, for what it’s worth, does a good job across the board of making its characters’ decisions seem, you know, not utterly insane, especially Miriam Silverman as that poor doormat Julia. Nick Dillenburg, as the moral changeling Proteus, comes off as much more likable and dimensional than Andrew Veenstra’s Fabio-haired Valentine. In a show this daft, that the most inconstant character becomes the most rewarding constant is, to quote a third U2 song, “a dangerous idea that almost makes sense.”

Our Readers Say

Yeah, while I think the actors did an okay job, it's clear that the director made some terrible choices. Julia cutting herself? The final U2 song that actually made me laugh out loud? Starting out in modern clothing in a parking lot, but then returning to period garb?

This guy needs to go back to Director School.
Maybe P.J. wants to be Joe Banno.
It's hard to find a review helpful when it feels like instead of making the review about the production it's all about the reviewer. Thanks for letting us know you have copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare on your shelf. Impressive. Maybe crack it open a little more often, give your "sagging shelf" a break. Firstly, yes it is true that Valentine's line at the end of the play can be interpreted as him offering Sylvia to Proteus, but it's also heavily debated among scholars and actors alike that it's him giving all the LOVE he has for Sylvia to Proteus. "And that my love may appear plain and free, all that was mine in Sylvia, I give thee." Given this production, which I saw, I think it makes more sense to interpret the line this way. Also, given the circumstances of the scene - Proteus has a gun in his mouth, it's not hard to see that Valentine would say whatever he could to save his life.

Yes, I agree that the script is a mess and raw compared to Shakespeare's other works. Yes, the direction is poor. Most of the music is not helpful to the story telling. But it's important to remember that the actors have no control over most of these things. They have to make the best of what they get from the director, the script, and the rest of the production staff. They have no control over their costume choices or their "hair" - come one really? Blathering on about the same things and then just barely mentioning three actors by name and how, because of their hair style (that they don't pick), they aren't doing a good job. I couldn't disagree more with you, by the way, about Andrew Veenstra's performance. I found it to be extremely compelling, full of raw emotion and beautiful text work. And dimensional? Not to take anything away from Mr. Dillenberg (who I thought was wonderful), Veenstra's performance was full of dimensions, fleshing out a character that is not written nearly as well as Proteus. For me, he was the stand out performance of the night. However, all the leads were quite good and used the language very well.

Yeah, we get it, you didn't like the set, the direction wasn't the best, but let's talk about the story telling. The story, because of the actors, is told well. And, because of their work, I think it's a show worth seeing.

Yes, the U2 was a bad choice, especially at the end. Why Paparelli would think that song would be a better ending to a Shakespeare play than the Bard's own words is mind-boggling to me as well, but all that rests on the Director. I blame all the things that don't work on him and congratulate the actors for being able to do what they are doing in spite of his terrible direction.
Yes, anonymous has it exactly right, despite his unwarranted attacks on the reviewer. The production overcomes the poor choices by the director because of the uniformly strong performances. And that includes the talented Oliver, as the dog Crab.

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