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Review: Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s ‘Two Gents’ director takes a modern approach

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Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman
Published: 06/06/11

“Man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.” These words, spoken by the much more mature Benedick in Shakespeare’s more mature “Much Ado About Nothing,” find their seeds in the Bard’s earlier comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.”

The season opened on a perfect warm night, with the sky clearing just before the play began.

It’s thought that Shakespeare wrote “Two Gents” early in his career, and so academics and some theater artists tend to trivialize it, but thankfully not producing artist director Charlie Fee. In this play Shakespeare introduced ideas and themes of human behavior — principally the fickle nature of love and loyalty — that fascinated him his whole career.

Dakotah Brown and Neil Brookshire*. Member Actors’ Equity. Photo by Joe Jaszewski / Idaho Statesman

In it, lifelong friends Proteus (Dakotah Brown) and Valentine (Neil Brookshire) part ways as, to put it in modern vernacular, Valentine goes off to college and Proteus stays home to be with his girlfriend Julia (Lee Stark). In Milan, Valentine finds Silvia (Nika Ericson) and falls hard for her. The problems start when Proteus — forced by his father to follow Valentine to Milan — sees Silvia, and he too falls for her, forgetting all about Julia.

This is Fee’s second take on this play, and appropriately in his 20th season with the festival, this “Two Gents” shows Fee’s maturing as a director. He’s broken his habit of restaging his greatest hits and taken a fresh look at this play. This time he goes for the heart instead of the obvious laugh. The only thing that could use more punch is the not-so-wacky chase scene at the end.

Fee strips it down to a Modernist view, with a stunning, colorful rotating geometric set by designer Russell Metheny that works in beautiful tandem with Michael Chybowski’s dynamic lights. As the sky darkens for the second act, you see an intense green wash on the grasses behind the stage. Star Moxley’s stunning costuming will make you wish she ran a boutique. Lush designs, elegant draping and fabulous shoes made every outfit a standout.

Instead of hip recorded music, Fee appointed musical director Matthew Webb and assistant director Sara M. Bruner to create a live musical soundtrack, anchored by Webb on keyboards and Todd Chaves on drums. Bruner, Jodi Dominick and Stitch Marker sing, play instruments and step into roles as needed.

It’s a great idea transforming the band into a Greek chorus, commenting on and punctuating the scenes through song. Yet with music by quirky vocalists Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson and Nick Drake, there’s an obvious collision of style when the songs are translated to more trained theatrical voices.

The success of this production owes much to the performance by this young crew of fresh talented faces.

Stark is thoroughly winning as Julia and Ericson makes an elegant and earnest Silvia, who sees through Proteus’ manipulations. Brookshire, who returns to the festival after a four-year absence, is a charming, stalwart Valentine and Brown, in the play’s most difficult role, manages to make Proteus a likeable fellow in the end. Love them all and want to see more of them.

These actors keep it real and keep the play centered, which allows the real comedians to shine: David Anthony Smith does an hysterical turn as Proteus’ servant Launce — performing with the newest company member Scooter Moose Chumber, who plays his dog, Crab. M.A. Taylor plays Speed, Valentine’s man, and takes full advantage of the character’s name for physical humor. Together they are comic masters. This is a great beginning to a promising 35th season.

Marylyn Luna, Boise: “It was wonderful. I loved the singing. It was like seeing a play I know, like it was the first time again. And the dog was great. How can you go wrong with a dog on stage.”

Glen Scott, Eagle: “This was my first play ever and it was splendid. The comedy was great and it felt very real.”

Bernadette Beck, Kuna: “It was very funny. The actors were very good at conveying their emotions.”

Jeremy Beck, Kuna: “It was very entertaining and worth the drive. This was our first time. The comedy and the characters were very good. You really felt part of the journey.”

Dana Oland: 377-6442

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