Review : Two Gentlemen of Boston Common (Part 2)

…ok, where was I?

It’s past 9pm on Friday night.  We’re wet, having sat in the rain for 45 minutes waiting for the show to start.  Stephen Maler, the director, comes out to tell us that while he may have said for years that every audience is the best audience ever, seriously, *we* are the best audience ever.

Enter Kennedy, the local radio show host who is now apparently going to be a regular because she was here last year as well?  She says, “Last year I told a knock knock joke, and it went over maybe 50-50…”

Yeah, I remember, because IT WAS MY JOKE YOU TOLD.  I wondered what jokes she’d tell this year when she promised two new ones.

New?  She went with “prose before hoes” and Shakespeare not being able get a drink at the pub because “he’s Bard.”  I wish she’d kept googling, she could have come up with something better that Bardfilm or I had written!

Once again I watch as she leaves the stage thinking that I might chase her down and introduce myself, but she disappears.

Two Gents is pretty unknown to anybody who’s not a Shakespeare fan, so I’ve had to summarize it for wife, friends, coworkers and whoever else asked me what I was doing for the weekend.  Keep in mind that the last time I read it was maybe 20 years ago, so I’m not too big on the details as well.  Here’s what I’ve been telling people:

Ok, Proteus and Valentine are best friends in Verona.  Proteus is in love with Julia.  Valentine heads off to Milan, where he falls in love with Sylvia.  Proteus is sent off to Milan as well for some reason, where he too falls in love with Sylvia (promptly leaving Julia in the dust).  Julia, meanwhile, dresses up like a boy to follow Proteus to Milan.  Proteus decides that he can get Sylvia all for himself if he screws over Valentine to the Duke.  This plan works, Valentine is banished and ends up leading a band of outlaws.  Proteus meanwhile thinks he’ll have Sylvia all to himself, but she’s still into Valentine so she runs away, and promptly gets captured by the outlaws.  Well, Proteus rescues her from the outlaws and when she’s not appropriately appreciative enough he says that he’ll just have his way with her regardless, causing Valentine to come to her rescue.  Proteus then apologizes for his bad behavior, and his best pal Valentine immediately forgive him and says oh you can have Sylvia.  But Sylvia reminds Proteus of his love for Julia, Julia unveils that she’s been hanging out with them dressed as a boy, and Proteus decides to go back with her.  The Duke comes in, everybody’s forgiven (including the outlaws), and we end on the promise of a double wedding just like always.  Oh, and there’s a dog.  The dog’s supposed to be funny.

The set is supposed to be some sort of Las Vegas / nightclub thing, with plenty of singing and showgirls dancing.  The actual characters break into song, it’s not like a background track.  Julia sings “Fever”, Proteus sings “Witchcraft,” that kind of thing.  The back wall is decorated with neon nightclub signs, and the one labelled “Hermione’s Place” is very surreal to me, I try to remember if there’s a Hermione in this play.

Proteus (left) bids farewell to Valentine.

I tried to take pictures this year since we were close enough, but between the rain and the distance and the darkness they didn’t come out great.  Hopefully you at least get the idea of what we were seeing.

The play starts with Proteus and Valentine saying their farewells as Valentine is off to see the world, while Proteus will stay home with Julia.  It’s only a matter of minutes before I lean over to my wife, rub her arm, and whisper, “Shakespeare makes me so very happy. Thanks for staying!”  I couldn’t even tell you what they were saying at that point, but it didn’t matter, you know?  There’s that magic spell that comes with hearing a Shakespeare play, outside under the stars, and you experience bliss.  It’s been almost 4  hours since we left the house to get here, but the words start flowing, and all that is erased, and it is totally worth it, just like every year.

I don’t really want to recap the entire show, mostly because it’s not up any more so it’s not like anybody’s going to rush down to see it.  But also because I just didn’t love it.  Here’s my highlights:

* They kept breaking character and playing to the audience, like pointing and winking whenever somebody laughed particularly loudly or “Woo!”ed at a joke.  The Duke was shown at one point playing golf, and after a particularly bad drive he’d mutter “son of a bitch…”  After intermission when Speed and Launce were doing some sort of vaudevillian schtick, Launce looks at the audience after a flopped joke, holds up a paper and says, “You know who wrote that joke?  WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.  That one killed during the plague!  If you want to complain email williamshakespeare at bard of avon dot com.”  <beat>  “dot org.”     That sort of thing.  It was like they didn’t have enough faith in the material.  And maybe that’s an accurate assumption to make, but then why pick this play?

Julia (seated) argues with Lucetta over a certain letter.

* There’s too much letter writing in this play, and it rapidly confused my wife (well, and me too).  Speed, who works for Valentine, brought Proteus’ letter to Julia?  But then Lucetta has the letter, and Julia tears it up, only to later try putting the pieces back together?  Sylvia has Valentine write a letter to some imaginary friend, then tells him it’s not good enough, gives it back to him, tells him to write another one, and give it to himself?  I knew the general plot of who loved who, but the letters lost me.

* The only characters that seem to get any stage time are Proteus and Julia (separately).  And Proteus is a real dick.  Seriously.  Pardon my language but that’s the best word to use.  He gives a big speech about how, to get Sylvia, he has to screw over both Julia and Valentine.  Then goes ahead and does it.  Then later he has to get Thurio (to whom Sylvia is betrothed) out of the picture.  It’s quite clear that Sylvia has no interest in him, but that doesn’t stop him.  This actually leads us to the famous “near rape”(?) scene.  They’ve done a good job of showing Sylvia escaping the outlaws, only to ultimately be captured.  But when Proteus arrives to rescue her, she then runs from him the same way she ran from the outlaws.  So he delivers his “I’ll woo you like a soldier, at arms’ end,
And love you ‘gainst the nature of love,–force ye.” line and goes in for what can best be described as an aggressive hug, like something out of a 1950’s movie where you have to show the bad guy doing bad things but still keep it clean.  No matter, though, because Valentine shows up and we have a quick fight scene to end Proteus’ evil ways. 

Our two clowns, Launce and Speed, with Crab the dog.

* What’s the dog supposed to do?  All our did was look cute.  When Launce comes out and says “I have a dog…” people cheered in anticipation.  So out comes a cute dog, who does little more than wag his (her?) tail and eat treats.  Launce does his whole routine about his mother and father as shoes, and that probably could have gotten more laughs (“No, the left shoe is my mother, it has the worser sole.”  Come on, that’s funny!)  Is the whole joke that the dog just sits there and says nothing?
* The best scene, and I’m not even sure where it appears in the script, is when Sylvia sits down with Julia (dressed as a boy) to talk about Proteus’ love for “her”.  That alone added more depth to both characters than anything else I saw.  Now we can understand why Sylvia hates Proteus – she knows how quickly he turned on his former love so she knows what kind of man she is. And we get to understand why Julia would stay next to Proteus even though, right in front of her face, he’s forswearing her and proclaiming his love for another woman.
* This leads to what I thought was the funniest scene, and one of the few times I’ll forgive them for the random “extra” bits:


How! let me see:
Why, this is the ring I gave to Julia.


O, cry you mercy, sir, I have mistook:
This is the ring you sent to Silvia.


But how camest thou by this ring? At my depart
I gave this unto Julia.


And Julia herself did give it me;
And Julia herself hath brought it hither. <pause, as all stare at her confused>  REALLY?!  <takes off her cap, shakes out her hair>


 How! Julia!

Overall I come away with the same thought I went into it – it’s not that great of a play.  There aren’t many characters to appreciate (except the scorned Julia), and everybody seems pretty stupid and unsympathetic (what with the whole “Oh, you just tried to rape Sylvia, but you apologized, so you can have Sylvia” sort of thing going on).  The clowns’ jokes are all “cheap pops” that get a laugh here and there but I didn’t see anybody rolling in the aisles.

Over the weekend as we told the story of how hard it was to go see the show, and people asked why we even bother, I took the easy path – I explained that Shakespeare’s plays are like my bucket list, and I’d not seen this one so even if it’s not a great one I still need to see it.  The real reason, of course, is back a few paragraphs and happened within the first five minutes of the play.

Shakespeare makes me so very happy.

2 thoughts on “Review : Two Gentlemen of Boston Common (Part 2)

  1. Yes, he makes me happy, too. So I have the opportunity to see "Henry VIII," which I've never seen, but I know is pretty awful (for Shakespeare), and your post has convinced me that I should see it, if only for the sake of my bucket list. Also, I saw a production several decades ago of "Two Gentlemen" in which the dog was played by a stuffed dog dragged around at the end of a piece of rope. Occasionally, it fell over, and had to be set upright again. It was hilarious.

  2. Funniest thing I've ever heard done with the dog was just having a dude in a dog suit play it, silent and morose except for a deadpan, articulate "Woof, woof" at the end of his scene. Brought down the house, reportedly.

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