Melissa is a white cis woman, a new play enthusiast, a feminist. She craves theatre that connects urgent ideas to human stories. She’s wary of hopeful things.

Christine is a director and a Shakespeare enthusiast who is maybe easily charmed.

Christine

So what’s in your pockets?

Melissa

Well I don’t have a ton of experience with Shakespeare, and am often wary of the comedies. I tend to think Shakespeare’s humor is hard to communicate because so much of it hinges on antiquated wordplay and allusions. I also went the day after the show was rained out so I was initially worried about the ground.  (I came alone from work so I didn’t have a blanket) You?

Christine

Almost the total opposite! I have a fair amount of Shakespeare experience, which I think makes me a little picky about certain aspects of staging his work. I definitely have specific things I look for in productions. Very much agree that a lot of his humor can be really inaccessible. I had no experience at all with Two Gents, so I was interested to see how clear the action and the humor would be to me encountering it for the first time.

Melissa

Same, I have no experience with Two Gents

Christine

Having seen it, I think I can say the play itself is definitely not one of my favorites, although there are some really interesting things about it. I was actually really surprised by the way Proteus became such a villain after having been established as a romantic lead. What were your thoughts about the story?

Melissa

Yeah I agree, Proteus became pretty despicable, which is not something I anticipated based on the early characterization of his relationship to Valentine. I thought the writing for their camaraderie was convincing, and I thought Kittson O’Neil and KC MacMillan, who cut the script, did a great job of paring it down to the essentials. I thought there was a concrete sequence of events that I was able to track, which is so important when you’re outside

Christine

Agreed on both counts. I thought the Valentine/Proteus relationship was played really convincingly in this production as well. And the show felt like it drove at a really great pace, partially due to the cuts, I think.

Melissa

But I didn’t understand the role of Launce (Brock Vickers) –I knew who he was but I couldn’t tell you anything he contributed besides the obstacle of his presence–or the clown with the dog. Julia’s servant and Valentine’s servant had influence on the plot in a way that character didn’t.

Christine

Yeah, I did find myself wondering if there was more in the original text for the Launce character in particular. The scene with that character and Valentine’s servant seemed to be going somewhere but it didn’t really have any resolution. It reminded me a little bit of the Porter in Macbeth–just a long series of jokes with not much consequence for the action of the show.

Melissa

I totally agree. It felt like that character was kept just for the dog

Christine

And, I mean, the dog was really adorable. I was not mad about it.

Melissa

And so well behaved. The night I was there, a little girl followed the dog onstage

Christine

Oh my god. That’s adorable.

Apart from a few moments, I felt that KC MacMillan and the cast presented this show with a ton of clarity. One thing I always look for in Shakespeare productions is a sense that the company is really reaching out to try to engage the audience, rather than kind of leaning back and “letting the text speak for itself.” Even in instances when I felt like a joke didn’t land for me, or I was missing something, I felt the intention of telling the story to everyone, trying to get everyone on board.

Melissa

I think that was evident in the acting, particularly during Proteus’ soliloquies. Jake Blouch did a great job of laying things out clearly to us. He was really engaging; people close to the front interacted with him a little. That’s so so valuable for outdoor theatre, especially with complicated language. Were there any performances that stood out to you?

Christine

Definitely Jake Blouch–I thought he played the turns of that character pretty expertly and even as Proteus behaved worse and worse, he managed to keep me engaged. I thought Trevor William Fayle was truly hilarious in all of his parts, but particularly as the scout leader. I found out afterwards that that character is a knight in Shakespeare’s text, and I thought that characterization was a genius choice. K.O. DelMarcelle was also really charming and bright.

Also, jumping off on your point about Proteus’s soliloquies–the night that I attended, the audience was vocally reacting to a lot of his scheming and his attempted seduction of Sylvia. It got to the point where someone yelled–“He sucks!” It was kind of awesome. The audience was so disgusted by that character’s behavior that there was a real hesitation before applause started at the end of the show.

Melissa

Yeah I thought that last vignette between Proteus and Julia was super interesting because of that. I thought it was a nice way for KC MacMillan to build Julia’s agency

Christine

I think you’re right. And the fact that they don’t get a full resolution felt right to me. I think it’s just a frustrating ending, but this production handled it about the best I could have hoped for.

What were your overall feelings about the direction and design of the show?

Melissa

I really liked how the women were directed. Julia and Sylvia were really full characters, which I sometimes find lacking in Shakespeare.

Christine

Agreed! I found their scene together really moving.

Melissa

I thought the band was used well. I liked when their musical stings punctuated scenes, like the sad trombone.

Christine

Me too. There were a couple nice drum hits too to punctuate jokes. I also thought that Proteus’s song and dance with the Lindy and Blues ensemble for Sylvia was done really nicely too–it was so goofy that it helped me feel like Proteus was partially just a clueless dude rather than a total malevolent asshole.

Melissa

I  didn’t understand what the context of that scene was though, unlike the party at the beginning. Was it a ball?

Christine

My impression was that it was just Proteus’s attempt to woo her. So he hired all these dancers and singers to come and put on this show under her window. I’d have to look at the script, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in the text it’s just Proteus singing at her window.

Melissa

But then why was Brock Vickers’ character there? Was it a deception, like “Let’s pretend I’m doing this on your behalf?”

Christine

Oh! Yes. I think that’s what it was. I totally forgot that Launce  was there. But I think you’re right.

Melissa

I think part of my confusion came from just being outside. The configuration of the playing space, with the basketball court and playground directly behind the stage, meant for me that there were more distractions than usual with theater in the park. 

Christine

Yeah–this was my first Shakespeare in Clark Park experience but I had heard from other people that the space was arranged differently than it had been in previous years. I actually didn’t mind having a lot going on around the playing space–I think I probably got distracted a little, but I liked watching people move around the park and get curious about the show.

I also think I come into outdoor shows with somewhat more of an open mind and a little more generosity than I do with other shows. I felt really open to the experience of hearing and seeing this show. I laughed really loud and a lot. I don’t know–something about the whole experience really put me at ease.

Melissa

Yeah,  one of the things I appreciate about Shakespeare in Clark Park is the communal love

What did you think of the set?

Christine

I thought it was nice–I liked the hanging windows, and I loved the use of signs to help orient us. I found the “Bon Voyage Valentine” sign at the top and the directional signs to indicate what city we were in really really helpful. Also, not really a set piece, but I was a huge fan of the ladder play between Valentine and the Duke.

Melissa

Yeah that was great, that whole scene was super clear and funny. I really liked the chandeliers suspended from the trees. They were elegant and kind of magical.

Christine

Agreed. I felt the same way about the purple-ish lights on the trees towards the end. And I thought the costumes from Natalia de la Torre were bright and fun. I loved the outlaws especially. And Peanut the dog with the little bandana.

Melissa

I loved the costumes, they also helped delineate space. Especially with Lindsay Smiling and Brock Vickers in matching outfits.

Christine

Yeah, that was really smart. Overall, I felt that this was a really tight, clear, very funny production of a play with a lot of problems and a ton of challenges for actors and a director. I was really impressed with what they pulled off, and with how much joy they put into it.

Melissa

I agree. In spite of the distractions from the environment, I thought it was a super clear production that did a great job of engaging the audience

 

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