Bare Theatre is honoring this 400th anniversary year of William Shakespeare’s death with a delightful production of the rarely produced “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” accomplishing several admirable goals.
The show is going out to the people, with performances in Raleigh, Durham, Research Triangle Park, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough throughout June. The outdoor venues are non-traditional performance spaces geared to relaxed viewing. And all performances are free, making them not only affordable but also open to casual passersby.
That’s what happened at Saturday’s first performance in the N.C. Museum of History’s courtyard. Downtown visitors often stopped to check out the proceedings, a number deciding to stay.
In this comedy, considered Shakespeare’s first play, Valentine leaves Verona to seek his fortune in Milan, where he falls in love with the Duke’s daughter, Sylvia. His friend Proteus stays behind to woo Julia but eventually joins Valentine. Proteus, too, falls in love with Sylvia, with complications ensuing when Julia arrives and discovers his redirected affections.
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Bare Theatre’s simple setting uses a wooden table functioning also as seat, bed and hideaway. A yellow rope delineates the playing space, although actors use the audience area for parts of scenes. Funky contemporary costumes add humorous detail.
Being drawn in is easy with Bare Theatre’s likable cast, whose joyous energy is channeled into confidently portrayed characters, clearly enunciated, with obvious understanding of the text. Director G. Todd Buker elicits a crackling pace in this 90-minute version, helping to distract from several plot weaknesses. He’s cast Valentine as a woman, but not dressed as a woman, injecting gender-bending interpretations to the situations.
Greta Zandstra’s Valentine beautifully balances the male-female spectrum, with witty acknowledgment of the implications. Rebecca Jones makes Julia a lovable airhead whose distress at Proteus’ change of heart is genuinely moving. Vera Varlamov’s Sylvia is seductively elegant, easily attracting Matt Fields’ fickle Proteus.
Two clown servants, Dustin Britt’s willowy, exasperated Speed and Sara Leone’s forthright, long-winded Launce, supply hilarious word play and physical comedy. The cast is rounded out with Bobby Simcox’s milquetoast paramour Thurio, Courtney Christison’s teasing serving woman Lucetta, Wayne Burtoft’s stern Duke and Alexandra Finazzo and Pimpila Violette in multiple roles.
Seating is up to the individual, with portable chairs the recommended option. Ambient venue noises make sitting close up the best choice to enjoy this adventurous and generous offering.
What: “Two Gentlemen of Verona” presented by Bare Theatre
Where and When:
▪ Space Parklet in front of Deco, corner of Salisbury and W. Hargett Streets. Raleigh; 7 p.m. June 3, 3 p.m., June 4-5, 11-12
▪ Brightleaf Square, 905 W. Main St., Durham; 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., June 18
▪ RTP Frontier, 800 Park Offices Drive, Research Triangle Park; 6:30 p.m., June 23
▪ 140 West Plaza, 140 W. Franklin St.; Chapel Hill; 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., June 25, 3 p.m., June 26
▪ Mystery Brewing Public House, 230 S. Nash Street, Hillsborough; 8 p.m., June 30
Info: 919-322-8819 or baretheatre.org