Saturday, May 24, 2003

Two Gentlemen of Varona

It's a fairly safe bet that William Shakespeare never heard of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby or the "road shows" of the 40s, so I'm sure he would be quite surprised at Acme Theatre Company's interpretation of his "Two Gentlemen of Verona," playing this weekend at the Pence Gallery (Acme's last performance on the soon-to-be-eliminated Pence stage).

Director Dave Burmester who, in collaboration with his young cast, is famous for doing innovative things with Shakespearean plays. "It's the thing I've enjoyed about directing Shakespeare," he admits. "There are no stage directions It challenges you to be creative."

From the moment Arabian dancers come undulating onto the stage in this slap-sticky version of the play, it's obvious that this is not your mother's Shakespeare. It's a movie they are making, the second in a series of "Road" pictures, and each of the scenes is introduced by two director's assistants (Betsy Raymond and Genny Moreno) and ended by director Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy yelling "Cut!" (The ploy begins to get a little repetitious especially in very short scenes, despite the heroic efforts of Raymond and Moreno to keep each introduction different.)

Burmester has created a show which is broad and highly visual--a fortunate thing, given the perennial audio problems at the Pence, competing with traffic noise, train noises, and the sounds coming from the businesses nearby. The comedy comes across even when the lines are overpowered by environmental factors.

Burmester has also done his share of gender-bending. Faced with a company which is heavily female, he has found a way to shape the plot to incorporate female characters instead of male--the Duke of Milan, for example, becomes the Sultana of Damascus (Stephanie Rickards) --this is, after all, a "Road" picture! The servant Speed is portrayed as a saucy wench (Jill Winternitz).

The Hope-Crosby of the piece are Valentine (Andrew Conard) and Proteus (Martin Dubcovsky), the former off to see the world while the latter choses to remain at home to pursue his love, Julia (Shakti Howeth).

In a lovely scene which makes full use of the Pence stage, including a balcony, Julia confers with her maid Lucetta (Krystal White) to decide which of the available men she should fall in love with, though she really has already given her heart to Proteus.

Things get complicated when Proteus' mother Antonia (Laurel Cohen--another gender switch) sends her son to Damascus, where he falls in love with the Sultana's daughter Sylvia (Katie German), with whom Valentine is already in love.

There follow the twists and turns in the plot that one would expect, including a kidnapping by outlaws (led by chieftan, Eric Delacorte), a third suitor for the hand of Silvia (Thurio, James Henderson), a few more dance numbers (one with bass accompaniment by Spencer Russell) and in the end all's well that ends well--or is that another story line?

Adding comic relief throughout the piece is the indomitable Nick Herbert as Lance, the servant to Proteus and Jean Marsh as his dog, Crab.

Choreographer Krystal White gets special kudos for the fun dance numbers (with able assistance by sound board operator Spencer Russell).

This will be Acme's last performance on the Pence stage and it's well worth a trip to enjoy the show. Bring a chair and warm clothes (even on a warm evening, the cold breezes took over by the second act).