The multi-talented troupe is part of Folger Shakespeare Library's two-year double commemoration: of Shakespeare's 450th birthday April 23, 1564 and the 400th anniversary of his death -- on his 52nd birthday, April 23, 1616.
"The Two Gentlemen of Verona", perchance Shakespeare's first play, at first glance may seem "some shallow story of deep love". When Valentine and Proteus journey from Verona to Milan, witty mayhem ensues as the two fall in and out of love with the same women.
But this romantic adventure has far deeper issues: the many ways that "Love is blind", causing: inconstancy that "Fills him with faults; makes him run through all the sins"; fickleness in friendship ("In love Who respects friend?" "Thou counterfeit to thy true friend!"); loss of self, "Love is your master, for he masters you". And overall, "the fury of ungovern’d youth"...
Ah, well. "O heaven! were man But constant, he were perfect."
Fiasco's take on "Two Gents" is constant entertainment, and many may say perfection.
It's co-directed by Fiasco's Ben Steinfeld and Jessie Austrian, the troupe's founders and artistic directors. Austrian also plays Julia, who's jilted temporarily by non-gentleman Proteus. Alas, in the first act, she occasionally tears a passion to tatters, as Hamlet warned his players.
Most of the actors play at least two roles -- all with aplomb.
- Zachary Fine plays both Valentine, a bit of a dim-wit whose servant Speed needs to explain things to him, plus Crab, a "cruel-hearted cur". Merely donning a round black nose transforms Fine into Crab, who is even more endearing and far more funny than Valentine is.
- Emily Young is compelling as the much-sought-after Sylvia, Valentine's valentine, who is courted also by two other men. Young is a true hoot as the haughty Lucetta, quite the master of her mistress Julia. 'Round dinnertime, Lucetta hopes that Julia "might kill your stomach on your meat And not upon your maid."
- Andy Grotelueschen portrays both the Duke, Sylvia's protective father, and also Lance, servant to the alleged gentleman Proteus. Lance is the supposed master of pooch Crab, who causes many whippings to befall Lance. Even fellow actors struggle to squelch laughter. The audience erupts in screams of laughter when Lance relates a farewell scene. He casts his two holey slippers, walking stick, and Crab as family members.
- Paul L. Coffee plays not only Thurio, Sylvia's rather daft suitor, and Speed, far more swift than his master Valentine, but also the cello and other instruments. Most of the actors join in the musical touches.
- Noah Brody charms as the dastardly, two-timing Proteus. He's the real cruel-hearted cur. Ah, well, all's well that ends well.
The ensemble theater company was created by graduates of the Brown University/Trinity Rep M.F.A. acting program, and five of the six actors trained there.
Fiasco's award-winning creative team includes
- James Kronzer, set designer, is a four-time *Helen Hayes Award-winner (Washington's version of New York's Tonys®). The few props are mostly love letters that are continually torn to tatters and hurled into the air, creating a metaphor of the love-torn characters as well as a dramatic effect. The pastel blue and pink lanterns, and especially the rope, enliven the bare set and the action.
- Whitney Locher (costume design -- the men's oxfords, whose various two tones include fuchsia and aqua, are as vibrant as the two gentlemen).
Special performances of "Two Gents" include:
- If "you have a quick wit...(but) slow purse": Pay-What-You-Can, Tuesday, April 22, 7:30 P.M. Tickets available one hour prior to performance; cash only.
- College Night, Friday, April 25, 8 P.M. $15 tickets with valid student ID.
- Pre-Show Talk by Folger Director Michael Witmore, Wednesday, May 7, 6:30 P.M. A scholarly, insightful discussion of the play. Includes light fare reception. Click here for more info and tickets.
- Post-Show Talk with Cast, Thursday, May 8, following the 7:30 P.M. performance.
- Folger Friday, May 9, 6 P.M. Poets Michael Gushue and Regie Cabico interpret the play with original works.
- Open-Captioned, Sunday, May 18, 2 P.M. Call the box office at 202-544-7077 for details.
Also, the Folger will present a preview screening and discussion of "Still Dreaming", the story of a remarkable version of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" staged by Fiasco's Steinfeld and Brody. The play is performed by retired Broadway actors, dancers, and musicians at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in New Jersey. Monday, May 19, 7 P.M. View the trailer here. Reserve a seat here.
"The Two Gentlemen of Verona" will be followed May 28-June 1 by eight performances of Fiasco's production of Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" -- with bluegrass music. Its sold-out, extended run was rated among the top ten theatrical productions of 2011 by "New York" magazine, and won the 2012 Off-Broadway Award (Obie) for Best Revival.
The production was termed "a playful and inspired work of art" by "The New Yorker". And "New York Times" reviewer Ben Brantley said Fiasco's "version of 'Cymbeline' is the clearest and most truly enchanting that I've seen," and termed it "exquisite".
(Speaking of musical versions, "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" had a fantastic rock adaptation four decades ago. John Guare's and ("Hair") Galt MacDermot's production won the 1972 Tony for Best Musical. Guare's lyrics protested the Vietnam War and far more, like "Clean air only makes you wheeze; Welfare keeps you on your knees.")
The two Fiasco productions are in conjunction with the free exhibit "Shakespeare's the Thing", featuring treasures from the Folger vault that are "unusual, unexpected, and downright fun," says exhibit curator Georgianna Ziegler, the Folger Shakespeare Library's head of reference and associate librarian.
You'll be "over boots in love", as the two gents say, with all the things at the Folger.
For more info: "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" through May 25, "Cymbeline" May 28-June 1, both productions by Fiasco, at Folger Theatre, Folger Shakespeare Library, www.folger.edu, 201 East Capitol Street, S.E., Washington, D.C. 202-544-4600; Box Office 202-544-7077. *Folger Theatre won one 2014 Helen Hayes Award announced April 21: Outstanding Lighting Design, resident production: Andrew F. Griffin, "Henry V". "Shakespeare’s the Thing" continues through June 15. The Folger, on Capitol Hill, is a gift to America from Henry Clay Folger and his wife Emily Jordan Folger.