Theater Review: THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA (Midsommer Flight at Lincoln Park, Touhy Park, Gross Park, and Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens)

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by Lawrence Bommer on July 8, 2018

in Theater-Chicago


Happily, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare’s first play, is not like the first pancake — a test case to be thrown away. A trifle depicting the too-forgivable treachery of fickle Proteus to everyone around him — especially his faithful Julia — it employs gender disguise as a test for love, anticipating the Bard’s surer subterfuges in As You Like It and Twelfth Night. Like Love’s Labor’s Lost, it’s about the jealousy and inconstancy of men more than women, especially their ability to rationalize the betrayal of friendship and plighted devotion as a survival strategy in the face of uncontrollable passion.

As this spring fling from 1590 takes on some midsummer madness, Shakespeare compares the vagaries of desire to the “uncertain glory of an April day.” To keep it a comedy, the course of true love must not, of course, run true and bad boys get forgiven.

Which makes it crucial that Proteus, a young nobleman from Verona, seems charming enough to pull off so much swinishness. That is indeed the case with Chad Bay, a charismatic Proteus in Midsommer Flight’s open-air revival (to be performed with free admission between now and August 26th in four Chicago parks: Lincoln, Gross, Touhy and Chicago Women’s Park & Garden).

Condensed to 90 minutes, Beth Wolf’s deft staging can hold its own against the summertime distractions of a big-city playground. With youthful ardor it delivers Shakespeare’s tomfoolery with enough drive and determination to compete with your garden-variety urban recreation.

This twisted tale of fractured romance centers on the much-tested friendship between the title characters. The presumed love of Proteus for Julia (LaKecia Harris) evaporates all too quickly when, leaving Verona to join his best pal Valentine (David Goodloe) in Milan, the cad forgets his home girl and falls for Silvia (Amy Malcom), who Valentine wants for his own inamorata. Julia arrives, disguised as a boy, to watch helplessly as her Proteus forgets her for another.

But staunch Silvia remains unimpressed, despite Proteus’s machinations against both Valentine and Thurio (Jack Morsovillo), Sylvia’s fatuous suitor and the choice of the Duke (James Sparling), her bumptious father. Anticipating Harvey Weinstein by 425 years, Proteus threatens Silvia: “I’ll force thee yield to my desire” — but a timely Valentine interrupts the would-be rape.

Shakespeare throws in a silly subplot involving ex-nobles posing as outlaws and the clownish servants Speed (Richard Eisloeffel) and Launce (Stephanie Mattos), the latter of whom owns Shakespeare’s most famous dog, the mischievous Crab (uncredited).

Bay and Goodloe excel at portraying the young lovers’ conflicts, as friendship and loyalty eventually trump infatuation and intrigue. As their patient lovers, Harris and Malcom honor the common sense and remarkable forbearance of these over-courted ladies. Mattos brings sprightly silliness to lovable Launce, while Sparling grounds the Duke in contagious dignity. Elizabeth Rentfro provides the period-pleasing music, including Shakespeare’s first lovely song “Who Is Sylvia?” Rachel M. Sypniewski creates suitably sumptuous Renaissance costumes.

Not nearly as generic as its title, Two Gentlemen of Verona works fine as the Bard’s first case history of the quicksand of emotions — and it’s not at all the downer of his other, later love story set in Verona.

photos by Zack Whittington and Tom McGrath, TCMcG Photography

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Midsommer Flight
live music presented a half hour prior to each performance
weekends through August 26, 2017 (Sat at 6; Sun at 2)
July 7-8 @ Lincoln Park (2045 N Lincoln Park West)
July 14-15 & 21-22 @ Gross Park (2708 W Lawrence)
August 4-5 & 11-12 @ Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens (1801 S. Indiana Ave.)
July 28-29 & August 18-19 @ Touhy Park (7348 N Paulina)
August 25-26 @ Lincoln Park (2045 N Lincoln Park West)
no reservations; for more info, visit Midsommer Flight

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