Quoting director Scot Whitney’s notes in the program for Harlequin Productions’ The Two Gentlemen of Verona, “Probably no one had argued that it is (Shakespeare’s) best work. It’s not…The jokes are often cheap, strained or downright corny. And though Shakespeare always played fast and loose with time and space, the seemingly endless list of contradictions within the test begins to look like an exercise in absurdity…But even Shakespeare’s worst play—which this is not—is better than most plays ever written.”
So there. Whitney summed up what I wanted to say about this play.
Before saying anything more, I want to praise the set. It is easily among the most inventive and beautiful sets I’ve ever seen. Designed by Linda Whitney for an earlier production, the main element is an ingenious set of cubes and triangular boxes that can be reconfigured to create an almost endless variety of set pieces, including city scenes in Verona and Milan and an idyllic forest. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube. On the sides of these puzzle pieces are beautifully painted scenes aptly described by Molly Gilmore in an article in the Olympian as resembling Maxfield Parrish illustrations. Equally gorgeous is a painted backdrop featuring two giant trees, all painted by the masterful crew of Jeannie Beirne, Marko Bujeaud, Bruce Haasl and Matt Moeller.
There are 20 scene changes, all in full view of the audience. Scene changes are often the downfall of otherwise-good productions, but in this case, each change is a choreographed dance that has audience members on the edge of their seats to see what will appear when the pieces come back together.
The plot is typical Shakespearean comedy. Valentine (Jeffrey Painter) leaves Verona for Milan to broaden his worldview. He begs his best friend, Proteus (Adam St. John), to come with him, but Proteus doesn’t want to leave Verona because the love of his life, Julia (Kira Batcheller), is there. But alas, Proteus’ father tells him he has to go, and he reluctantly obeys. In Milan, both Valentine and Proteus fall in love with Silvia (Jessica Weaver), the duke’s daughter, who is betrothed to Thurio (Xander Layden). Back in Verona, Julia decides she must travel to Milan to be with her love, Proteus, albeit in disguise as a boy. Thrown into the mix are wise fools played by Jason Haws and Russ Holm, a group of outlaws, Valentine’s roller-skating servant (Andrew Scott Bullard), and Silvia’s maidservant, Lucetta (Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe).
There are inspired scenes of comic gold, as when Haws first appears with his dog, a puppet manipulated alternately by Haws and Ferguson-Wagstaffe. You may recall Ferguson-Wagstaffe was the living presence inside the puppet flower in Harlequin’s recent production of Little Shop of Horrors. There’s also a scene in which everyone mounts make-believe horses and gallops around like knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and a marvelously funny super-slow-motion fight scene near the end of the second act.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona is rollicking entertainment of the highest order—or maybe of the lowest order. Either way, it’s a lot of fun.
What: The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Where: Harlequin Productions’ State Theater,
202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia
When: 8 p.m. Thursday – Saturday, Oct. 6-8, 13-15 and 20-22;
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9 and 16
How much: $20-$34
Buy tickets: 360-786-0151 | Harlequin Productions