Two Gents is a successful twist on a theatre classic – and it plays in a Toronto park!
In the centre of Withrow Park, at the bottom of a small hill are planted two large trees. It is between these trees that Shakespeare in the Ruff is staging their inaugural performance. Just as they are a new version of an old company, so is their presentation of Shakespeare’s Two Gentleman of Verona, entitled Two Gents.
The setting is informal. I lounged on a blanket while munching on my picnic dinner for most of the performance. People had kicked off their shoes and brought popcorn as if they were sitting in their own living rooms. In my opinion, a perfect setting to watch Shakespeare come to life.
For those who don’t know Two Gentleman of Verona here’s a quick breakdown. Proteus travels from Verona to Milan to meet his good friend Valentine in the Duke of Milan’s court. Upon arrival he falls in love with the Duke’s daughter Silvia, whom Valentine has secretly been courting. Simultaneously he forgets about his previous love, Julia, whom he has left behind in Verona. He devises a plot to expose Valentine’s tryst and claim Silvia for himself. This plan causes much comedic havoc on all four lovers’ lives ending in a final confrontation between the four.
Shakespeare in the Ruff has added a few modern twists to the plot though. The Duke is now a Duchess, played by Trudy Weiss, Verona is now in Ontario and (gasp!) they re-wrote the ending! Modern twists for a modern day audience.
For the most part the adaptations were effective. The audience was engaged and laughing throughout. The only addition that I found not fully effective was the inclusion of songs. Though their integration was fairly fluid, the sudden change in language I personally found jarring. It took me out of the world.
And the world was so vivid! The sprawling field with the forest beyond was the perfect backdrop for Two Gents. Watching the characters strolling through the grass or acting out battles as the backdrop to the action was a wonderful image. Every once and a while a passerby would stroll through the scene somehow adding to the magic of the event.
I felt like I was sitting in an organic theatre bubble. The world was whirring by but it didn’t distract from the event, if anything it added to the moment. One of my favorite things was how the actors would come running into the space from any direction. It gave the evening an unplanned feel. It was as if the show was meant to happen there and a crowd of people just happened to be sitting on the hill witnessing the events.
A few suggestions to those who go to check it out; arrive early to stake out a good spot! The closer you sit, the better you can see and hear the action. Be sure to bring a blanket or chair to sit on and a sweater to wrap yourself in. As the sun goes down you’ll want to stay cozy and warm. Bring a picnic! How often do you get to eat in the theatre anymore.