Friday, August 31, 2007

The City Paper


Outrageous comedy finds love in Milan
NSF Apprentice Co. shows ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’


As one of Shakespeare’s earliest works, The Two Gentlemen of Verona offers a whimsical story of young love and friendship. So who better to stage such a lighthearted play than the Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Byron and Beth Smith Apprentice Company?

Featuring 15 talented teens, as well as a number of professional stage veterans, The Two Gentlemen of Verona incorporates a fanciful circus theme – complete with colorful clown costumes, silly sound effects and plenty of onstage antics.

The play introduces us to lifelong friends Valentine and Proteus – the two gentlemen to which the title refers – who travel to Milan in search of their fortunes. Instead, their friendship is tested when the fickle Proteus falls for Valentine’s beloved Silvia. Of course true love prevails, but not without the obligatory series of comic complications, including everything from a botched elopement and a merry band of outlaws to a heartbroken female character forced to disguise herself as a man.

Directed by NSF’s Education Outreach Coordinator Claire Syler, Two Gentlemen maintains a lively pace while showcasing the considerable talents of the young ensemble.

Standouts include Sam Spanjian and Steven Berryessa as Valentine and Proteus respectively. Savannah Frazier (as the lovely Silvia) and Christy White (as poor jilted Julia) offer memorable performances, managing to hold their own against outrageous male counterparts.

But as with many of Shakespeare’s works, the servants provide much of the wisdom – and most of the laughs. In this regard, Alex Spieth is excellent as Valentine’s loyal Speed, delivering tongue-twisting dialogue with a wink and a smile.

Likewise Chris Baldwin is hilarious as the dim-witted Launce, working the enthusiastic audience to maximum effect with a seemingly endless stream of puns – and with a little help from a dog named Crab. Indeed, the pooch (played by the charming Mr. Biggles) is adorable, innocently wagging his tail as Launce repeatedly scolds him and calls him “the sourest natured dog.” As with the NSF’s concurrent production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Two Gentlemen of Verona benefits from the talents of a top-notch creative team. June Kingsbury’s costume design and Scott Boyd’s set reflects the production’s youthful and animated tone. But make no mistake – with the exception of a few technical glitches early on – this show is every bit as polished as any open-air theater production can be. True to its mission, NSF continues to educate and entertain audiences through the timeless stories of Shakespeare. CP