The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Ajinkya Desai as Speed and Amara James Aja as Valentine

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Up-and-coming actors take on Shakespeare

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Richard Seer
The Old Globe San Diego
November 12 – 20, 2016

Each year, The Old Globe/University of San Diego Shiley Graduate Theatre Program brings us a little Shakespeare. It’s a great opportunity to check out some up-and-coming actors – see what the next generation is up to. This year’s production is “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.”

Set in Verona and Milan, the play follows Valentine (Amara James Aja) and Proteus (Kevin Hafso-Koppman), two bros looking for love and maybe studying from time to time. Proteus is sad when Valentine relocates to Milan, but quickly occupies himself with Julia (Suzelle Palacios). However, soon after, Proteus joins Valentine in Milan – expressing his undying love to Julia before leaving.

Not surprisingly, Proteus forgets all about Julia in Milan. Valentine is competing with Thurio (Samuel Max Avishay) for Sylvia’s (Talley Beth Gale) love and Proteus decides to join the melee – betraying both Valentine and Julia.

As Shakespeare goes, Two Gentleman is a fairly insubstantial confection and often lacks the pointed barbs that make his later plays so meaty. Sylvia is like a beta version of Kate from “Taming of the Shrew” or Beatrice from “Much Ado About Nothing.” She gets her licks in, but they are mild by comparison.

The best moments come from Speed (Ajinkya Desai) and Launce (Lorenzo Landini), Valentine and Proteus’s servants. Landini is especially solid, portraying Launce as a stoic imbecile who doesn’t quite get the joke. Desai is always a hoot. There’s also great chemistry between Palacios and Christina Okolo, who plays Julia’s servant Lucetta in the early acts. Points to Hafso-Koppman for making Proteus seem more a fool than a complete douche.

The ragtime costumes are great, but the era does not really get infused into the show. There isn’t a lot of movement onstage, with the exception of Sir Eglamour (Jose Martinez), who is always dancing, and some whip-play later on.

I always look forward to the MFA show because it’s a unique opportunity to watch emerging actors stretch on the big stage. These are committed performers and it really comes through. I just don’t know if this play was the best way to showcase their talents.

San Diego,
Josh Baxt has an MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and writes for a local nonprofit. His play, Like a War, was produced for the annual Fritz litz. Josh's short fiction has been published in the anthologies Sunshine Noir and Hunger and Thirst, as well as the journal City Works.