Here’s a little secret: if ever there’s a time to bum rush a box office, it’s now. Get tickets while you still can to Aaron Posner’s impossibly perfect production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Folger Theatre. Now.
Rarely has the language of the Bard ever seemed so particularly lucid, or his romance so delicious. And with a trio of exceptionally clever actresses leading the way, Verona has never felt so enormously sublime.
In a world where Cupid’s arrows strike a quartet of young lovers who fall in and out of love and rely on their servants to figure out what to do about it, Posner relies on the talents of Kate Eastwood Norris, Holly Twyford, and Lucy Newman-Williams to transform into a mythical myriad of characters, making use of Aaron Cromie’s ingenious masks to portray various maids and fools, bumbling outlaws, suitors and even a Duke.
The three play every role but the four smitten lovers. From Norris’ goofy clowning and Newman-Williams’ intimidating antagonist to Twyford’s inimitable appearance as Crab the dog, all three women are unsurpassed in their breadth of talent and ability.
Not only are Verona ‘s fringe players all endlessly engaging, but as its two central pairs of sweethearts — Brian Hamman, Heidi Armbruster, Ian Merrill Peakes and Karen Peakes — convey such vulnerable, wistful couples that we longingly surrender to the facts: People just don’t make love like this anymore.
With such fine command of its lyrical language, and such a gifted penchant for mining all of the sweet poetry laced throughout Verona, someone has to take credit for knitting together such a delightful piece of perfection. Posner leaves no text unexplored, no problem unresolved, no laugh unfurled. Each scene melts seamlessly into the next in a heavily stylized production that nods knowingly to the Rat Pack. His aesthetic features a certain Swingers hip quality, as demonstrated by Kate Turner-Walker’s diverse period costumes, Dan Covey’s glorious lighting and Kevin Hill’s rapturous sound design. But that’s putting it mildly. Verona is a rewarding and sumptuous feast of the senses.
It should be called “Mary Zimmerman’s Pericles.” At least then there would be no doubt whose production it is. Because in Zimmerman’s hands, Shakespeare’s histrionic adventure with its eternally questionable authorship no longer remains the stuff of fevered debate between scholars and the literati. With Zimmerman behind the play’s three tempestuous storms and the merrymaking of the day, Pericles becomes something of a fairy tale: one long, intricate, dreamlike, incredibly rambunctious fairy tale that inflates to life through the vision of a very determined imagination.
Of course theories exist that Shakespeare himself didn’t pen all of the flotsam and jetsam of Pericles’ first two acts, which seems reasonable, as they are constructed from a cluster of convoluted, often trifling scenes that don’t reflect the seasoned sophistication of its last three acts. It’s best to check all expectations at the door in a production that opens up like a hidden treasure chest, full of unexpected surprises and one bottomless bag of tricks.
Maybe it’s a nursery, maybe it’s a palace, maybe it’s a sea of folly, but as the evening begins inside of Daniel Ostling’s gaping set, we are slowly introduced to the story of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Through many tribulations and trials, over land and sea, birth and death, Pericles learns how the gods grant redemption and renewal through love eternal. It’s an optimistic, magical journey that Zimmerman treats with modern sensibility. At times her rich, quirky production feels like a sitcom. Other times, it’s soft and surreal.
After the first two miserable acts dissipate, Zimmerman reigns in Shakespeare’s imagery with taut direction. The result is deft comic relief from fine ensemble performances by Richard Pelzman, Michelle Shupe, Naomi Jacobson, and an endearing Sarah Marshall as a sorceress.
Ryan Artzberger stumbles in the title role; he sounds as though he’s on the brink of delivering emotion but never fully realizes the experience. Marguerite Stimpson shines as his virtuous daughter Marina, especially in Pericles’ most climactic moments of reunion.
Composer AndrÃ© Pluess lends musical charm to the proceedings, while Mara Blumenfeld’s gorgeous costumes add even more splendor to this mirthful treat. In the end, Zimmerman deliberately reminds us why we call it a “play ” after all.
If you’re still nursing those lingering post-election blues, Jules Feiffer’s A Bad Friend may offer temporary relief to that ailing disappointment. Feiffer’s coming of age story about a teenage girl struggling with the politics of her Communist parents in 1950s Brooklyn Heights is a purposeful, relevant look at how the American Left lost its innocence.
Theater J continues its tradition of muscular, artistic craft with a solid production directed by Nick Olcott. Jim Jorgensen and Valerie Leonard are the two “progressive ” parents to Lily Balsen’s young Rose, and Balsen is perfectly cast as the wholesome girl who learns how to lose her innocence without losing her resolve. It’s a breakthrough performance from Balsen and a welcome introduction to actor Field Blauvelt, whose ambitious screenwriter of spaghetti westerns suggests that “Every Jew wants to be a cowboy. ”
Feiffer’s black humor permeates his story, which details the discovery of Josef Stalin’s infamous Doctors’ Plot and his planned pogrom during the Cold War. Feiffer’s courageous questioning extends past a bygone era to the moments when Rose befriends a possible spy under the guise of a street artist. Her intentions are all honest, her ideals all pure. Then why should she make such a bad friend? Feiffer maintains the wise claim that in all things, history has the answer.