Two Gentlemen In The Park
Free Milwaukee Parks Performance of One of Shakespeare's Earliest Works
Two Gentlemen of Verona is never given a whole lot of respect. It's generally considered to be one of Shakespeare's weakest plays. The ending n particular seems a bit at odds with itself and well . . . then there's the whole rape aspect of it and the comedy and well . . . it's a bit of a mess . . . but it's not like there isn't some good stuff in the and that good stuff is given some love in a free staging currently being performed by the Riotous Shakespeare.
I love the idea of doing free Shakespeare in the Park and there's really no reason why the man's complete works couldn't play out over the course of any given summer in Milwaukee. There certainly is enough talent in town to carry that many productions. . . and what RS is displaying here is further proof that even the least accomplished of Shakespeare's scripts really requites very little aside from decent acting. And that's exactly what the script is getting here. A variety of young actors play out a rather unevenly framed romantic comedy. It's kind of a weird plot arc, but the cast handles it like it's gold, which goes a long way toward making it work in places. Ending still feels kind of weak, though.
The performances are free in various area parks over the course off the week. I had the opportunity to see the show in Washington Park last night halfway through the show's run. It had come to Washington having just played for a couple of nights in Lake Park . . . and judging from Ross Zentner's photos of that staging seen here, the Washington Park performance was considerably less intimate than those in Lake Park. Washington Park's band shell is beautiful . . . and the wooden benches on blacktop make the place feel like a really comfortable auditorium, but the space is just way too big. For the first scene, I sat on the front row of benches. You could tell that there was Shakespeare going on, but you couldn't see or hear much else. There was no amplification. Many in the audience had brought their own chairs and set them up right in front of the stage, but with the way the stage is set-up that's still really, really far away. So I relocated myself next to a bubbler by the side of the stage and was able to feel quite drawn-into the show at times.
The production is savvy enough to broadcast itself with bright color and amplified movements. Some voices take to the air a bit better than others. Wednesday night's performance included John Glowacki and Mark Puchinski as two men who are mixed up in love with two women. Puchinski is Valentine in bright pink highlights and Glowacki is Proteus in Day glow green highlights. Both have powerful enough voices to resonate through the immediate area of the performance. That they can do so without making their lovestruck characters seem over exaggerated seems like a huge accomplishment in and of itself. the fact that both of them have a kind of charisma that pulls attention to the stage is just extra.
The ever-impressive Brittany McDonald puts in another stand-out performance. Here she is playing Speed--the servant of Valentine. She's had memorable performances with UWM in some very heavy dramas. This summer its been nice to sees her in more comedic stuff. She had a clever sense of irony in The Author's Voice and here she has a tempered sense of comic exaggeration in a glowingly funny performance as a clownish servant.
Alex Van Abel puts in a fun supporting performance as Launce, servant to Proteus. He's got kind of an affable charm that is accompanied by a live dog. Not sure who it was who played the dog Crab, but the dog in question had a kind of temperament that went well with Van Abel as Launce. His dialogue with Brittany McDonald from the first scene in the third act was one of my favorites.
Parks provide some interesting complications. The dog playing Crab was tethered to a side of the stage that happened to be kind of close to the bubbler. So when casual parkers happened by for a drink, the dog was naturally pretty attracted to the bubbler . . . went offstage a couple of times. An older woman had come by . . . she was there with a group of kids at the bubbler. This dog could not have seemed less threatening. It was a very, very sweet dog, but it kind of startled the woman, who was already more or less oblivious that a performance was going on. So when she started to shout, there was a unified and overwhelming "shh" the broke out from the audience. . . .
Sitting where I was actually pretty nice, though. I ended up being right next to an area for many entrances and exits . . . and there was kind of a nice layering effect going on at times . . . the characters are discussing the dog and it's just a bit offstage looking right at me. I was sitting Park Right/Stage Left. The actors in character approached the stage from the area behind me at times, giving my kind of a weird feeling of occasional immersion . . .
For the most part, casual parker goers who didn't realize there was a play were respectful. My favorite moment towards the end of the play had to be when one of the neighborhood kids rolled right up to the stage and just sat there on his bike and . . . watched. I really have no basis for know this, but I like to think that kid was seeing Shakespeare performed live for the first time ever . . . completely unexpected to him, but here's this grade school kid seeing Shakespeare . . . and really seeing it performed for the first time . . . and that's why what Riotous Shakespeare is doing is so important . . . because it can hostel strangers into becoming aware of some of the power of live theatre.
Riotous Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen Of Verona runs through the end of the work week. Tonight and tomorrow night, the troupe moves to Humboldt Park. Chill with Shakespeare on the Hill for free the evenings of the 28th and 29th. Both shows start at 7:30 pm.