Rounding the corner of South Salisbury Street in Downtown Raleigh onto W. Hargett Street, I found myself transported to the middle of Verona. A young man (who later introduced himself as director G. Todd Buker) called for me to join the crowd of spectators, speaking in Italian, exclaiming "Molto bene!" as I took my seat. Bare Theatre's Two Gentlemen of Verona performs until June 30 in multiple locations across the Triangle, many of which are non-traditional performances venues, such as this "Parklet," a tiny park the size of two street parking spaces. All of the showings are free to the public, but donations are very much appreciated and well deserved.
Taking a moment to explore the area, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but I was fairly certain that this production of Two Gentleman of Verona would be unlike any other Shakespeare production that I had seen yet. The actors wasted no time in creating a scene in the audience's imagination. Using only a table and a thick yellow rope to outline a stage, the performers surrounded themselves with the audience in a way that I imagine would have delighted William Shakespeare himself.
The play begins as Valentine, one of the title gentlemen, departs Verona in an effort to explore the world and improve himself. However, this plan gets sidetracked when he falls in love with a daughter of the Duke of Milan. Greta Zandstra as Valentine, one of the gentlemen of Verona, impressed me with her ability to effortlessly play to all of the audience while maintaining a very realistic embodiment of her character. I also enjoyed seeing a woman playing a "pants role;" to me, it felt like a slight nod to what we currently have going on politically.
In the first scene, we also meet the best friend of Valentine, and other gentleman protagonist, Proteus. Proteus leaves Verona shortly after Valentine at the request of his father, forcing him to depart from his beloved, Julia. Upon his arrival to Milan, he also falls in love with the Duke's daughter. Played by Matt Fields, Proteus is a misguided protagonist who craves affection. I found myself empathizing with Powell's character throughout the play – despite his deceitful behaviors – because Powell took great care to demonstrate that his character is both thoughtful and worthy of love, albeit a little confused on how to attain such love.
Valentine becomes betrothed to Silvia, the Duke's daughter, and is shortly thereafter banished from Milan. Once he has left, Proteus starts to pursue Silvia, lying that he does not have a true love in Verona. Julia, disguised as a boy named Sebastian, comes to Milan to find out how Proteus is doing. Meanwhile, Silvia ventures out into the woods to escape her father's oppression where she is kidnapped by outlaws.
Both Vera Varlamov (Silvia) and Rebecca Jones (Julia) were dynamic; they committed themselves entirely to their performances. They demonstrated true understanding of the meaning of Shakespeare's text through each thought-out action, breathing new life into their iambic pentameter.
The Duke, Proteus, and Julia/Sebastian form a search party to find Silvia. Proteus finds her, fighting off outlaws in the woods, and insists that she repay him in affection, with Julia/Sebastian watching. Valentine appears and stops Proteus from "having his way" with Silvia, all of them noticing how upset Sebastian has become from seeing this series of events. Julia reveals herself to Proteus; he apologizes profusely, and she forgives him. Valentine is then invited by the Duke to return to Verona and be with Silvia.
Of course, no Shakespeare comedy would be complete without a talented comedic relief: I really enjoyed the performance of Dustin Britt (Speed). He gave new meaning to all the world being a stage by interacting with audience members on a very personable and charming level. I appreciate when an actor truly "fits" his character, and this can be said for Britt!
No production can be successful unless all cast members are up to the same level of excellence. In Two Gentlemen of Verona, each and every actor maintained a consistent amount of energy that did not waiver, even once the heat really started to set in after the first few scenes. I was consistently engaged in the plot and I felt the intimacy of the setting enhanced my experience.
Two Gentlemen of Verona performs at the "Parklet" (the corner of Salisbury and W. Hargett) until June 12 and at various other locations around the Triangle through June 30. To see a listing of all of these performances and venues, see the sidebar.