Monday, September 2, 2013

Two Gentlemen of Verona—The Playmakers at Disjecta Arts Center—N. Portland

"Love is Blind”
This is the inaugural production of this company in the DISJECTA Contemporary Arts Center in their outdoor courtyard at 8371 N. Interstate Ave.  The Shakespearean comedy is directed by Avital Shira and produced by Amir Shirazi and Katie Farewell.  It runs through September 8th.  For more information go to www.disjecta.org/exhibitions-events/two-gentlemen-of-verona

Ah, yes, the heart rules when Cupid slings his fateful arrow.  And, therein, lies this tale.  The story is simple and related, in many ways, to some of his other comedies with star-crossed lovers, comic servants, mistaken identities, disguises, and loves won and lost, then won again.  It is not just the story of this age but, of and for, all ages. This one is set in the early 1900’s, with music & songs as an underscoring to it.  And, all-in-all, in modern clothes, stripped of any set, with minimal props, and a cast of eight playing about twice as many roles, it is really quite lovely!

The plot is quite simple, with two young gadflies on the outlook for that elusive thing called love.  Proteus (Zach Virden) has cemented his love with Julia (Kayla Lian) but seems intent on also wooing his best friend’s, Valentine’s (Colton Ruscheinsky) main squeeze, Silvia (Foss Curtis), who he is in lust with.  Silvia’s father (Tony Green) is less than enthusiastic with her interest in Valentine and would rather she turn her attentions toward a wealthier suitor, Sir Thurio (Josh Gulotta), a fool in fop’s clothing.

So Proteus hatches a plan to expose Valentine’s proposed plot to abduct Silvia and elope with her, thereby getting him banished from the area.  And, thus, leaving the field open for him to woo fair Silvia.  Only problem is that Silvia cares not a wit for him and, complicating matters further, patient Julia disguises herself as a boy, Sebastian, and allies herself with Proteus, so that she is apprised of his nefarious doings.  Meanwhile, Valentine and his servant, Speed (again, Josh Gulotta) are accosted by outlaws and, because he is a criminal now, too, is made their leader.

But, all is made right again, when dirty dealings are exposed and lovers trysts come to a close (all in the right beds this time).  Of course, one must ask why Julia, or Valentine, for that matter, would take back, into their good graces, such a rat as Porteus but, as mentioned, “love is blind,” and so to happy endings, one and all.  It is the age old dilemma, the battle between heart and mind…what one knows vs. what one feels.  The secret, perhaps, may be to be not so concerned about what you want but what the other person needs.  Just a thought…

The idea of adding music from this period is quite a stroke of genius.  Not only does it illustrate the feelings of the characters but it quite entertaining in itself.  Gulotta, Max Maller (Lance, et. al.) and Kate Berman (Lucetta, et. al.) do most of the singing/music and are quite talented in that area.  And Berman, who does the lion’s share of these interludes, has a lovely voice and does well in the characters she portrays.  She’s a real treat.

All four of the leads are very competent in their conversational style and delivery of the dialogue.  You really see the complexity of Lian’s Julia, as she becomes a boy and your heart goes out to her.  You admire Foss’s Silvia, as she’s nobody’s fool and is smart enough to see through Proteus’s ruse and is constant in her love for Valentine.  Ruscheinsky’s Valentine is the true blue hero of the piece and he portrays it well, as you root for him all the way.  And Virden’s Porteus is a real stinker as he valiantly tries to woo the audience into thinking that his methods are sincere.

Green, in all his incarnations, seemed to be the most precise in his diction when playing his parts.  And the comic servants are always a favorite with audiences from a Shakespearean play.  Gulotta, as Valentine’s wise servant, Speed, has the necessary ingredients for the role, part wit, spit, with a musical niche.  And Maller as Lance, Proteus’s not-so-bright servant, is wonderfully underplayed.  His ruminations with, and about, his dog, Crab, are quite a delight.

And, probably the most important member of the team, the director, Shira, gives us a solid production.  It is fluff but done with style.  Her actors are all on board with similar methods of delivery and, as mentioned, the addition of music (w/Shirazi) is the icing on an already deliciously layered dessert.  To create a recipe for art on a bare space is no small feat, but in the hands of a professional baker, it seems like…a piece of cake.

I recommend this production.  If this is a sign of things to come from them, it will be a real pleasure to watch them develop.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.