O, Shakespeare! Why didst thou write such a play? Why doth any company still perform it? Forsooth, it hath some enduring one-liners, despite being one of thine earliest works. Yea, thou wert the first to say Love is blind and I am but a fool. But really, thy chauvinism doth wear thin.
How are we in the 21st century to believe that a strong woman, even in the Roaring Twenties, would pledge troth to a cheating would-be rapist? That the high-born and educated witnesses to his baseness would laugh it off as passing folly? T’would have been better set in a modern gang.
Be that as it may, the Annapolis Shakespeare Company gives admirable lift to this cumbersome play.
Valentine (Joel Ottenheimer) and Proteus (Patrick Truhler) are best friends from Verona who, with their servants Speed (Brian Keith MacDonald) and Launce (Matthew Alan Ward), visit the Duke of Milan (Brian Davis). Both woo his daughter Silvia (Laura Rocklyn), despite her father’s preference for Thurio (Brendan Edward Kennedy) and Proteus’ pledge to his hometown girl, Julia (Amy Pastoor). Suspecting Proteus’ vacillation, Julia disguises herself as his boy servant, forcing her to court Silvia on her betrothed’s behalf. When Silvia chooses Valentine, Proteus thwarts their elopement and causes his friend to be exiled. Silvia follows, is set upon by outlaws and rescued by Proteus, who tries to force himself on her. But Valentine saves the day, and all’s well that ends with a double wedding. Rrright.
The best things about this show are MacDonald and Ward as the comic relief. MacDonald, a most watchable actor, is a master of nuance as Valentine’s wily valet, Speed. Ward is a physical dynamo as the ribald clown Launce, a cross between Dick Van Dyke and Jim Carrey. He also exercises absolute command of his costar, Crab the dog (Julie Ricketts), an adorable spaniel who disproves the conventional wisdom that animals don’t belong onstage. Also noteworthy is Kennedy for his stunning rendition of “Lady Be Good,” adapted to Shakespeare’s poetry in praise of Silvia. That man can sing to beat the band!
The period costumes are a delight. The Jazz Age soundtrack features hits by the Gershwins, Fats Waller and Fred Fisher. Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s tiny black box theater is painted with a minimalist Art Deco mural and a blinding sunburst of pinlights suggesting a crowded speakeasy. The concept sounds good, but the action feels forced in this intimate space when fights break out or the whole company kicks up their heels to the Charleston.
The Company’s mission — to produce bold, re-imagined, entertaining and accessible interpretations of classics — is admirable. Some projects, however, are more deserving than others. This lengthy comedy will appeal most to mature Shakespeare buffs.
2.5 hours with intermission. With Renata Plecha (Lucetta), and James Carpenter (Elgamour). Director and choreographer: Sally Boyett. Lights: Adam Mendelson. Costumes: Jackie Colestock. Musical arranger: Gregory Thomas Martin. Scenic artist: Mariana Fernandez. Fight choreographer: Amy Pastoor.
Playing thru June 28: FSa plus Th June 25 8pm; Su 3pm: 111 Chinquapin Round Rd., Annapolis; $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513; annapolisshakespeare.org.