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Two Gentlemen of Verona

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Scott Bellis, rounds off Bard on the Beach’s 2017 summer offerings (Shylock to come in September). The only other time Bard tackled this flimsy, problematic play was in 2001. 

Both shows on the Howard Family Stage this season confront controversial subjects: anti-Semitism in The Merchant of Venice and objectification of women in Gentlemen. Despite the title, there are no “gentlemen” to be found onstage. All major male characters in both plays behave unchivalrously, leaving the ladies to salvage their own dignity and purpose.

Two Gentlemen of Verona

Under the “sheer brilliance of Scott Bellis” (to quote Bard’s artistic director Christopher Gaze), Gentlemen receives new vigor and interpretation, making the abstruse plot a humdinger picnic for young and old alike.   
 
The story begins in Verona where bosom buddies Proteus (Charlie Gallant) and Valentine (Nadeem Phillip) must part ways. Valentine ventures to Milan to pursue his fortunes but is almost immediately smitten with the Duke’s daughter Silvia (Adele Noronha). However, she’s been promised to the rich Turio (Kamyar Pazandeh) and the two lovers arrange to elope.

Paul Moniz de Sá, Andrew Cownden, Luisa Jojic
[Paul Moniz de Sá, Andrew Cownden, Luisa Jojic]

Meanwhile, under the urging of his father (a noble Paul Moniz de Sá), Proteus dispatches to Milan as well, abandoning his doting sweetheart Julia (Kate Besworth). Reuniting with Valentine, Proteus also becomes infatuated with Silvia and hatches a hat trick of deception against his best friend, Turio and Julia in order to snatch the Milanese beauty for himself.

Charlie Gallant, Kamyar Pazandeh, Edward Foy
[Charlie Gallant, Kamyar Pazandeh, Edward Foy]

Notified about the elopement, the Duke (a staunch and unyielding Edward Foy) exiles Valentine into the forest where he becomes the leader to a mob of “banished gentlemen”.

Unaware of Proteus’ treachery, Julia disguises herself as the boy page Sebastian so she can travel to Milan and rejoin him. From there the plot twists along as sacred male bonds are tested while affections and loyalties are challenged.     
 
Nadeem Phillip, Charlie Gallant
[Nadeem Phillip, Charlie Gallant]

The Bellis recipe contains keenly funny moments. He extracts every comedic nugget allowing the actors free-run of over-the-top performances. Some of the intermediate scenes with secondary characters are even funnier than the main action. His Director’s Notes makes for an interesting pre-show must-read because he explains his passion for engaging youth and how to bring their sense of immediacy and folly into this production.

The entire cast is clearly having a good time, which in turn, infects the audience. Introduce two clever clowns and a dog – Launce (Andrew Cownden), Speed (Chirag Naik) and poker-faced Crab (Gertie the basset hound) – to get the Douglas Campbell tent vibrating with laughter, injecting seamless improvised puns and even a plug for Merchant without stirring a whisker.

Andrew Cownden, Gertie the Basset hound
[Andrew Cownden, Gertie the Basset hound]

Cownden’s comedic flourishes demonstrate the ease and deft of a seasoned actor while Naik’s style is less refined but still full of sprite and eagerness. Gertie, like her female co-stars, manages to bring down the house without uttering a word.
 
Gallant’s Proteus is a thoroughly beguiling scoundrel with a honeyed voice. He slips into the skin of a giddy lover as easily as that of a fickle traitor. Phillip brings sensuality and genuine heart to his Valentine while Pazadeh’s Turio is a lovable pompous buffoon à la Pepe Le Pew.

Carmela Sison, Kate Besworth
[Carmela Sison, Kate Besworth]

Kate Besworth (Julia), Carmela Sison (Lucetta) and Adele Noronha (Silvia) all seem to hit their stride with ease and passion in this comedy when compared to their stiffer roles within Merchant. Olivia Hutt (Hostess) and Luisa Jojic (Pantina) have smaller bits in this production but are unrestrained in their playful guises.
 
Marshall McMahen’s sparse set is complimented by Adrian Muir’s florid lighting, Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s intoxicating choreography and Julie Casselman’s individualized soundscapes. Combined with Mara Gottler’s romantically eloquent costumes, the mingling of actors in both dance and fight scenes (Josh Reynolds) creates a fete for the senses. 
 
Nadeem Phillip, Charlie Gallant

At the time that Shakespeare penned this play, men were afforded liberties denied to women. The fairer sex could be commanded, discarded or traded. In order to get anything done, you had to be a man! The forest bandits must therefore pretend to be brave “men” and Julia must disguise herself to leave home.

Do these liberties infer that it is so much better to be male? Bellis turns these notions topsy-turvy and updates the play towards 2017 sentimentalities. You must see his creative edits for yourself.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona continues on the Howard Family Stage through September 17. A nod of gratitude is extended to all the Bard volunteers who keep the venues running immaculately.     

Photos by David Blue.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Her next big pursuit will be in the newly-introduced field of forensic linguistics.

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