Is The Two Gentlemen of Verona Shakespeare’s most bro-y play? Maybe not; it isn’t purely about the guys. Yet they clearly have the upper hand, and it’s easy to see 2GV as a Vince Vaughn–Owen Wilson comedy, in which one of them, leaving his lady love behind in Verona, goes to visit his best bud forever in Milan, where he instantly falls for the woman his pal is also set on. The frolicsome plot involves meddlesome parents, a disguise, some comic servants, a dog, and a band of not-very-fearsome outlaws. This is early Shakespeare, and though it lacks some of the clarity and depth of his later writing, the play is lyrical and mostly lighthearted even in its serious moments—it abounds in the spirit of youth in springtime. In dramatizing a clash of love and friendship, it’s also—no surprise—more daring than anything in Vaughn and Wilson’s scripts.
The production of 2GV now running at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, under the auspices of Theatre for a New Audience, is that of Fiasco Theater, whose work I haven’t seen before. By trimming the text and doubling parts, Fiasco has condensed the cast to six actors, many of whom play instruments as well, and instead of the sole song in the original text we’re given a handful. The opening line of Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love, play on” hovers over the proceedings. Surprisingly, no composer or arranger is credited in the playbill, so the music is presumably the work of the entire company.
As a program note suggests, 2GV is more or less about trying to get things right; honoring that, as well as the many missives that are torn up in the story, Derek McLane’s set design features a backdrop of crumpled letters. The staging, jointly directed by Jesse Austrian and Ben Steinfeld, is trim, lithe, and buoyant, possibly at its most distinctive in giving the dog part to a man—Zachary Fine, who does much by doing little. It breezes right through the troublesome moments of the conclusion, which is pretty much what Shakespeare himself does, and simply doesn’t bother to depict any action at all at the point where the text refers to a gift. Scratch your head over that decision if you will (as my companion and I did for a few minutes), but this is too pretty and smiling a show to worry over for long. It runs through June 20.
With Fiasco’s 2GV, TFANA reaches the end of its second season in the flexible and intimate-but-not-small Polonsky Shakespeare Center, which is the first home the company has had since its founding, in 1979. Though I missed all four shows in its initial season there, I believe three were homegrown and one, co-produced with the Public Theater, was derived from a Royal Court production. By contrast, three shows in its current season, including 2GV, have been in some sense guest productions, and only one, the majestic Tamburlaine, originated in-house. This prompted me to wonder whether the edifice complex that had led the company to obtain a home base left it scrabbling for funds with which to produce its own work there. Fortunately, my anxiety seems misplaced, for now; TFANA’s 2015–16 season looks to be a fully in-house set of productions.