Review: The Two Gentlemen of Verona

One of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies gets a modern makeover at Center House Theatre.

By Laura Dannen March 22, 2010

Surfer dude Chris Ensweiler plays the fool—and steals every scene, along with pup Russ—in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo courtesy Erik Stuhaug.

In a brave move that actually pays off, Seattle Shakespeare Company takes The Two Gentlemen of Verona and sets it in Southern California—the same SoCal shared by Lindsay Lohan and “real” housewives—and turns an otherwise silly, shallow Shakespeare comedy into something entirely believable. And accessible. And incredibly entertaining. The modern makeover of Two Gentlemen—complete with fake palm trees and a neon “Club Verona” backdrop—has the seductive allure of reality TV, as teens party hard, love fickly, and aren’t afraid to stab each other in the back—repeatedly. It’s still the same story, only this time, the servants are flamboyant personal assistants with BlackBerrys and a stoner surfer plays the fool. It works all too well.

The show opens with Connor Toms and Daniel Brockley as boy buds Valentine and Proteus, enjoying a round (or three) of shots at Club Verona before Valentine leaves for his first semester at Duke University (har har). Proteus stays at home with his love-of-the-moment Julia (Hana Lass), an affair that can only end poorly; on opening night, after Proteus deleted Julia’s number from his cell phone, the audience visibly winced. Proteus joins Valentine at Duke and enters a battle over the fair Silvia (Emily Grogan). But thankfully, the leading ladies are no mere “objects of affection” in this production—just wait for the slightly altered ending.

At times, Two Gentlemen seems more dedicated to sight gags than paying attention to detail (one reviewer was annoyed by the relocation of Duke to California), but it is still very good at getting laughs, particularly when surfer fool Lance (Shakespeare vet Chris Ensweiler) is onstage, delivering lines like “Sir, there’s a proclamation that you are vanished.” Banished? “Dude, banished.” And with a chuckle and a head slap, he shuffles offstage, followed by a tide of guffaws.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona runs through April 11.

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