Hundreds of times it has been said that Shakespeare is not for everyone. And how can this not be true when the playwright’s heightened language seeps into society unaltered by time. Hundreds have also said that Shakespearean literature is just too unrelated to today’s modern world. I beg to differ. It’s the times that have changed, not the audiences. This is precisely why I highly commend the Judith Shakespeare Company‘s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona at its TBG Theatre on 36th street. I wasn’t just treated to their rendition of the timeless classic. I was given a fresh outlook with a gender-reversed cast, and that made my experience so much better.
Dealing with the themes of friendship and infidelity, this romantic comedy takes the show to a whole new level. Surprisingly and not surprisingly, the gender-reversed did not fiddle with the integrity of the play, but it did up its comical aspects. What I inexplicably enjoyed most was the men’s interpretation of women, in love. Alvin Chan’s portrayal of a lovelorn Julia inspired some of the most memorable performances in the show. Equally as comical a performance was that of Hunter Gilmore as a gentle and seemingly fragile Sylvia. The same can be said for fellow leads Rachael Hip-Flores (Valentine) and Sheila Joon (Proteus).
Body language is key when imitating the opposite sex, and this challenge was successfully achieved by mostly all in the cast. Lance (Alexandra Devin) and his dog Crab (Candide), the scene stealing duo, instantly won over the crowd with their wonderful onstage relationship. Candide’s comic timing was impeccable. I was stunned at first but I quickly came to the realization that this pooch was truly a great actor. Visuals and setting played an excellent part in setting up scene for scene almost fluidly. A guitar player for live music was also a clever added touch for mood music.
Joanne Zipay’s version of The Two Gentlemen of Verona was certainly favorite presentation of a Shakespearean play. Of course, there was no difference in the actual play itself. All content was the same as it’s ever been since it was written by the great “Bard” centuries ago. Yet this company dared to cross boundaries and investigate a change in sexes. My fascination with this turn of direction only grew with its blunt casualness. This show made it okay to experience Shakespeare without feeling overwhelmed and half-witted. This just shows that there is always more than one way of doing things.
Check out footage from the TRaC roundtable discussion with guest speaker Alvin Chan, who plays Julia in Judith Shakespeare Company’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”: