The pre-show of The Two Gentlemen of Verona is as entertaining as the production currently playing at The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory. By entertaining, it is laugh-out-loud funny and fun as audience participation is highly encouraged. From singing along to throwing stress-ball tomatoes if an actor says, “Line,” the ensemble cast pulls the audience into the production, just as it was done at The Globe Theatre in Shakespeare’s time.
The theater itself, operates in an old church, of which most of the interior has been historically preserved. The ornate décor lends to the ambiance that The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory is trying to convey – and do so, successfully.
The ensemble cast is self-directed with only 5 off-book rehearsals bringing Shakespearian theatre conditions to life with undeniable passion for his work.
At the 1st opening line, the cast breaks the fourth wall in the truest sense of Shakespearian theatre. On a sparse stage, with a “Romeo and Juliet” balcony erected upstage, The Two Gentlemen of Verona begins with Proteus and Valentine discussing Valentine’s preparations to leave Verona for Milan. The role of Proteus is played by Chris Cotterman with a dynamic strength while Joel Ottenheimer portrays Valentine with wonderment. These two actors easily reveal that Proteus and Valentine are best friends. As Valentine departs, accompanied by servant Speed played by Frank Vince, the two friends wish each other well. Proteus decides to stay in Verona to pine after Julia, played by Jessica Behar.
Jessica plays Julia with a down-to-earth quality, who at first is not very interested in being pursued by Proteus. But when Julia’s maid, Lucette, portrayed by Kelly Dowling pleads his case, her feelings come around for him.
Just as it was before the 1660s, many of these players assume dual and triple roles in this production. Kelly assumes two other roles. One as Launce with “his” dog Crab at his side (a Baltimore Humane Society adoptable dog named Benson waiting to be adopted) and the other as an outlaw. Kelly takes on each role with great zeal and spunk – especially Lucette who is quite the opposite of Julia.
Frank Vince is another player that has dual roles as Speed and Sir Eglamour. Frank gives convincing performances that amuses the audience. Jessica also plays a dual role, but to say more would spoil the fun, as all is eventually revealed.
As the play progresses, Proteus’ father, played by Chris Ryder, orders his son to follow Valentine. Reunited in Milan, Proteus realizes his friend has fallen in love with the highborn Silvia, portrayed with sheer elegance by Kristina Szilagyi. Unfortunately, Silvia’s father, played by Ian Rogers, prefers the rich yet short-legged Thurio (also played by Chris Ryder) as a suitor for his daughter.
When Proteus meets Silvia and Julia is out-of-sight and out-of-mind, he begins his crusade to win Silvia’s hand. Soon, Julia arrives – not quite as herself – and is disgusted that Proteus is wooing Silvia. However, Silvia rejects Proteus’ advances and asks Sir Eglamour for help to escape from Milan to reach Valentine. Proteus enlists the help of “Sebastian” to give a ring and a letter to Silvia. “He” refuses and tears up the letter.
Proteus and “Sebastian” follow Silvia out of Milan, who is captured by a band outlaws. In additional to Kelly Dowling, Jim Stimson and Kristina Szilagyi play the other two outlaws. The Shakespeare Players portray their other characters with such distinction; the audience members will not be able to tell.
As the play nears to a close, Proteus rescues Silvia but then tries to force her to yield to him. Valentine witnesses everything and rushes to her save her. He then is willing to give Silvia to Proteus, which causes Julia to faint.
The play wraps up with truths revealed, justice served, forgiveness rendered, bravery acknowledged, and love conquering all. The ensemble cast is self-directed with only 5 off-book rehearsals bringing Shakespearian theatre conditions to life with undeniable passion for his work.
Running Time: Two hours with one 15 minute intermission.
The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory Players present a delightful production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona show times are Friday and Saturday, November 16th & 17th at 7:30 PM and Sunday, November 18th at 2 PM, at The Great Hall Theatre St. Mary’s Community Center, 3900 Roland Avenue in Baltimore. For tickets call 410-218-1479 or click here.