Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Six Gentlepersons of Verona—Bag & Baggage Theatre—Hillsboro

"If Music be the Food of Love, Play On”

The Shakespearean adaptation and direction of this comedy is by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director).  It includes music and songs adapted from the 70’s by Musical Director, Beth Willis.  It is playing at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St. in Hillsboro, OR.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org 

We have just experienced the cultural revolution of the 60’s and now, in the 70’s (the time period for this play), must follow the path we have laid out for ourselves. Morals and Music have changed, drugs and free love are now part of our persona and the art of politics soon will follow this winding road.  And so the landscape changes from the “little boxes” we live in, to the open, rainbow fields of discovery.

In this incarnation of the Bard’s play of Two Gentlemen of Verona the cast has a gender change of five women playing about a dozen roles and adding 70’s music, song and dance to the mix.  The plot really is very slight, not veering far from his other love stories in his comedies.  They always deal with disguises, cross-purposes, comic servants, irate parents, travels, bad poems and unrequited, young love.

In this case, lanky Proteus (Cassie Greer), has found his love in lovely Julia (Arianne Jacques) but, as usual, father objects looking for a richer suitor.  But his childhood pal, restless Valentine (Clara-Liis Hillier), is off to find love in the big city.  Speed, his feisty servant, (Kaia Hillier) has opted to go with him, to intercede or carry messages when necessary.

Before long, Proteus, tiring of the love games locally, decides to find his old pal and, like him, seek his fortune elsewhere.  Launce (Jessi Walters), his stoner servant, and his companion, the wide-eyed, Crab (Mick DuPre’), have chosen to amble along with him.  Meanwhile, Valentine has been smitten by Silvia (Walters, again).  But complications arise when Proteus also has a thing for her.  And, to make matters worse, Julia has decided to come after Proteus, disguised as a common man.

All these elements are familiar devices in the Bard’s comedies of love.  But to tell more of the plot would spoil the fun.  Needless to say, love conquers all and wrongs are righted again.  The success of the production is not in the original story itself which, as Palmer admits, “…is simply not a very good play.”  It lies in Palmer’s brilliant and innovative adaptation (which I hope he publishes, maybe OSF would be interested) and his marvelous, multi-talented cast, who are terrific!

Greer has played many major roles in his shows and has shown her diversity from the flighty, flirtatious Daisy in The Great Gatsby, to playing a languid, lanky boy in this production.  Her alto voice gives a mysterious, sexy charm to her personas.  And she is simply a very good actor, giving focus and believability to all the characters she inhabits.  Also, she is no slouch as a singer, either.  She should be seen again onstage and often!

C. Hillier is another very accomplished actor, gracing not only this stage but plays with NW Classical and Vertigo, as well.  She is always worth watching and this may be a personal favorite of mine from all the roles she’s done, as she stretches herself in very convincingly playing a young man but also in her very good singing ability.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing much more of her onstage.  K. Hillier (Clara’s younger sister) portrays one of the Bard’s better clowns in his shows.  She obviously comes from good stock and shows she also has some pretty impressive acting chops.  I wish her continued success.

Jacques is lovely to look at and then is equally convincing in her guise as a boy.  What could be just another love-struck, simple character is heightened by her abilities because she gets you to genuinely feel for her plight.  And Walters is amazing as the comic stoner, Launce.  Being space-out most of the time, gives an added dimension to the already amusing role.  I embraced her as soon as she set foot on the stage and I never wavered in my enthusiasm for watching and listening to her.  She had me at, “Dude….” And, what is more amazing, is she plays the beautiful Silvia, as well.  That’s acting, folks.

But her scene-stealing partner, DuPre’, as Crab, was also worth watching, as they made quite a team.  Although having a beastly countenance, the big eyes would melt your heart.  And DuPre’s timing in silent bits was impeccable, whether giving a stare at the audience or licking the face of the master…oh, didn’t I explain, DuPre’ is a dog, a pug, I believe…and is great.  W. C. Fields has said never to appear with animals or children because they steal the scene.  He’s right, but they never had Walters as the other half of the team, who holds her own against him.

The music is a welcome addition to the play and fits very well into the story.  And the ladies are simply a treat as the play boys, women, sing, dance, and play musical instruments.  This may be the best ensemble I’ve seen onstage!  And Palmer, as the Creator, not content to duly transcribe a play to the stage, he enhances all the shows he does by his uncanny understanding of the Art of theatre.  I’m always on board to see his plays and I’ve never been disappointed in his productions!

I highly recommend this show.  If you do go to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.