Friday, June 20, 2014

Ashland Nails it Again

A couple of days back I wrote about what a great job the Ashland Shakespeare company did with a not-so-great Shakespeare comedy.  Last night I watched them do it again.  This time, the subject was Two Gentlemen of Verona--an amiable piece of juvenilia, perhaps Shakespeare's first play, of interest almost solely by virtue of the fact that it prefigures so many things Shakespeare would do again and better, later.  In good hands, these hands, it emerges not as a first rate play but as a rewarding entertainment and an instructive harbinger of what is to come.

And the reason it worked so well last night would be?  I'm not completely clear in my own mind: the cast was all women.  Yessiree folks, every creature on stage--even the one who could have qualified for an NBA tryout-- was presented as a guaranteed, bona fide, female (although I guess actually I am not clear about the dog).  The result was good a production of Two Gents as ever I've seen (surprisingly to me, I have seen a few):  tightly integrated, nicely paced, with a proper mix of pathos and  brio.  In short, all you would want of a Shakespeare comedy anywhere, ever.

I said I'm not completely clear why it was so good.  I suppose the natural response is just that "oh, girls just do everything better."  Could be: the performance offers nothing to contradict such view.  But I offer a slightly different spin.   Recall how Ashland too often doesn't trust the text and feels it has to lay on interpretations or devices that just get in the way of the real thing.  But here, of all places, they had the ultimate device.  Once having made their point ("Oh look!  We're casting women!"). they had the freedom to let the play go on its own. And that is exactly what it did.  With talented players, able direction, good coaching (the diction was top notch), they gave the audience a chance to explore everything that Shakespeare had to offer.  The fact that "what Shakespeare had to offer"  was not much--that fact is really beside the point.  It's a good natured, if limited, entertainment in its own right.  

Still, it is important to put the point in perspective  So, while the play may be weak by Shakespeare standards, it may be strong by anyone else's.  My guess is that Shakespeare had written nothing else, he still might be remembered for having written one engaging piece of work.   It's interesting also in that it really does display so many of the themes and devices that he explored and developed later.  You can almost see him in the audience watching his own product and thinking "I see possibilities here"--and unlimbering his own formidable capacity for self-correction.   You need a good production to get the point and that was precisely what was on display last night.

No comments: