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A CurtainUp Review
Two Gentlemen of Verona

When didst thou see me heave up my leg and make water against a gentlewoman's farthingale? Didst thou ever see me do such a trick? >— Launce admonishing his dog, Crab, for bad behavior.

Two Gentlemen of Verona
Kurt Rhoads, Rex O'Reilly
(Photo credit: William Marsh)
Thanks, I needed that! I've found there's nothing so restorative in this jangled world than a little sit-me-down with Shakespeare. To that end, in the summer, I often turn to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Garrison, New York.

Performed on a huge bluff overlooking the Hudson River on the beautifully tailored grounds of the Boscobel Restoration, the festival is now in its 28th season and still growing. The 2014 season consists of Two Gentlemen of Verona, Othello and The Liar an adaptation of a Corneille play by David Ives.

I caught a performance of Two Gentlemen. . . this week on a perfectly balmy summer evening.For those who expect a review to be immediately judgmental, let me say you're rarely see as fast, funny or fanciful production of this early romantic comedy by the Bard as this one. The uninhibited and inventive director is Eric Tucker and he's kept his foot on the gas literally and physically throughout. Playful productions are the norm at this festival with entertainment often trumping enlightenment.

I have to confess that Gentlemen. . . has always seemed rather routine to me, perhaps because it is essentially a template for Shakespeare's later comedies. Embodied in it are the elements of wavering love, the heroine disguised as a servant, banishment, intrigue in the forest and forgiveness from the rulers on down: a plateful of plot to be resolved to be sure.

At the center of the action are four young people who fall in and out of love, ultimately forgive and forget while learning a few life lessons about compromise. Played with youthful fervor by four fresh-faced actors, Ethan Saks (Valentine) Andy Rindlisbach (Proteus) Megan Wiles (Julia) and Susannah Millonzi (Silvia), it isn't difficult to believe how screwed up their lives become when their eyes fall in love long before their hearts.

Set in Verona and Milan, director Tucker has envisioned those cities as bawdy, places right out of a contemporary setting by the Italian film director Federico Fellini. On hand to steal the show are two festival veterans, husband and wife, Kurt Rhoads and Nance Williamson as Launce, Proteus's servant and Lucetta, Julia's lady in waiting.

As the show's principal comics (check out that street walker's stalk that Williamson employs) they have their work cut out for them because Rex O'Reilly, an actor making his debut in this show playing Crab, Launce's dog, walks away with everything. The fact that he is a three-year old boxer does not diminish his impact. W. C. Fields was right – never work with children or dogs - because they will have the audience in the palm of their paws from the get-go.

Rex and Rhoads (the dog gets top billing) are hilarious together. It's too bad the director chose to include some tasteless dog poop jokes.

The costumes are as uninhibited as the performers. When the cast speeds through the aisles in an oversize golf cart, you'll think you're back in the days of the Keystone Cops. And when Launce and Crab drive in together, the audience (including the old folks) goes bananas.
There's a lot of sexy dancing to choreography by Alexandra Beller and the director creates some funny and clever tableaus with the actors morphing into Italian fountains complete with splashing water. See it and believe it.

It would be a disservice to the good acting and delightful direction to dismiss this as simply as a good play to introduce the Bard to new comers. It is in fact exactly the kind of show that Shakespeare had in mind for his comedies. I'm sure he would have included the sometimes low brow antics, dancing and the speedy golf cart had they been available, but I wonder if he would have let a mutt upstage his beautiful prose.

Two Gentlemen of Verona
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Eric Tucker
Cast: Ethan Saks (Valentine) Andy Rindlisbach (Proteus), Megan Wiles (Julia), Nance Williamson (Lucetta, Outlaw, Inn Keeper), Aryana Sedarti (Pathino) Kurt Rhoads (Antonio, Launce), Rex O'Reilly (Crab), Cameron Jamarr Davis (Thurio), Susannah Millonzi (Silvia), Jennifer Johnson (Speed), Leopold Lowe (Duke of Milan), Oliver Lehne (Eglamour).
Costume design: Rebecca Lustig
Lighting: David Upton
Sound: William Neal
Props design: Sue Rees
Choreography: Alexandra Beller
Stage Manager: Maggie David
Through August 31, in repertory with The Liar, and Othello.
Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Boscobel House and Gardens, Rte. 9D, South, Garrison, New York
Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.
Tickets range from $22.40 to $69.50. Discounts are available for students, seniors (65+) and groups. There is a 25% discount for purchasing seats for all three plays for weeknight performances.
For more information or to make reservations, contact the box office at 845-265-9585, or at
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