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Review: 'Two Gentlemen of Verona'

August 12, 2010

One of the challenges of staging some of Shakespeare's comedies is figuring out how to make their endings satisfying and palatable to contemporary audiences.

Times, it is true, change. And where once--in the most obvious example--the "taming" of fiery Kate in "The Taming of the Shrew" was just peachy, these days directors must wrestle with whether to modify the original message or embrace the period.
In "Two Gentlemen of Verona," the "happy" ending includes one of the titular gentlemen, who has betrayed his lover and his best friend in pursuit of the latter's love, returning to his first intended with barely an apology. Marriage is next. End of story. "All's well that ends well," a 1760s audience might have said--and who cares what the women were feeling anyway? But today it's harder to feel that same joy.
The engaging production of the play staged at White River State Park Aug. 6-8 by Heartland Actors' Repertory Theatre didn't solve the problem--it kind of barreled through it to the curtain call. But, to its credit, the lack of attention to the issue didn't take much away from the evening. Prior to the less-than-satisfying ending, HART effectively delivered nearly three hours of smiles in an easily understood, gracefully designed and lit production (aided and abetted, until the sun went down, by the White River shimmering behind it).
Adriano Gatto as the betraying gentleman and Chris Hatch as his best buddy grounded the problematic play while clowns R. Brian Noffke, Ryan Artzberger and Casper the Dog (in a remarkably lengthy canine role) scored well-deserved laughs in the more comedic parts. The women--including a generic Silvia, passion-generator for both gents--weren't quite working at the same level, but Shakespeare gave them less to go on so allowances should be made.
With three years of summer Shakespeare under its belt--and with these "Gentlemen" a notch in quality above last year's "Much Ado About Nothing,"--let's hope that an institution has been born. Expanding the show this year to three (free!) performances bodes well for HART taking an anchoring role in Indy's summer cultural life. As soon as the next show is announced, I'll be putting it in my datebook.
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