Shakespeare in Clark Park is a yearly treat for the community in West Philadelphia (and points beyond), offering free productions that frequently incorporate the artistic talents of the locals. Their eleventh-year production of Two Gentlemen of Verona continues this tradition — and adds to this (as the program says) SCP’s desire to “[reimagine] the world of the park though the works of Shakespeare.”
This begins with the loose Swing Era/1950s setting, designed to make the most of fun outfits and music. Costume designer Natalia de la Torre fills the bowl of Clark Park with color. Thurio wears a red sweater, navy jacket, and khakis so preppy he could have come from a private school yacht party, while the outlaws sport the jeans, leather jackets, and red bandanas of a gang of greasers. Figurative boy scout Sir Eglamour gets the literal uniform, which frames his knobby knees between olive drab shorts and knee socks to awkward perfection. Valentine’s pink and blue plaid buttondown coordinates with Silvia’s navy and magenta flowered skirt, as well as Lucetta’s dress and Launce’s patterned pants. Meanwhile, Launce’s yellow blouse and green kerchief recall her master Proteus’ yellow-striped buttondown and green plaid sportcoat that are almost as loud as the band.
The Suburban Jazz Quintet provides the dance numbers, background music, serenade accompaniment, and occasional sad trombone sound effects with energy and attitude. Lindy and Blues, meanwhile, provides the community dancers. The production begins with a number sending off Valentine from Verona, and the dancers return for “Who is Silvia?” in Act 4, a showstopper also featuring Proteus (Jake Blouch) on vocals and a sullen Thurio (Brock Vickers) relegated to the triangle.
Despite the vast size of the bowl of Clark Park, and the occasionally unreliable sound system, the cast effectively projects their performances without sacrificing humor. David Glover as Valentine fills the role with boyish charm and enthusiasm. His physical comedy is spot on, from the amusing evolution of his and Proteus’ greeting fist-bump/chest-bump/sack carry to the vaudeville perfection of his difficulty in concealing a corded ladder beneath his incredibly conspicuous flasher trench coat. Claire Inie-Richards (Julia) likewise conveys the humor of lovesickness, letting Julia’s rather proper attitude clash freely with her drive and reckless actions. She maintains the contrast of Julia’s hopeless love of Proteus with a clear-eyed view of his faults, which sparks an evolution of sorts: confronted with someone who is truly violating boundaries, Inie-Richards shows Julia redirecting her undeserving self-censure to a more deserving target. Her reaction to Valentine offering Proteus forgiveness (and possibly Silvia) is a beautifully disbelieving scoff instead of a dramatic swoon; at the end of the play, she beckons him to follow her off the stage with a grudging wordless motion that simultaneously conveys that she loves him in spite of herself, and that he still has a long, long way to go to earn her forgiveness.
Meghan Winch gives Lucetta a sassy edge and the earthy Launce a shade of ’50s busybody, though as the latter she never sacrifices the chance to crack dirty jokes. Playing the straight man (or dog) to her antics is Peanut, reprising her role as Crab from Temple University’s earlier production of Two Gents. Peanut brings a controlled dignity to the character, enduring Launce’s increasingly outrageous accusations of misbehavior with a sardonic quiet that throws into question Launce’s reliability as a narrator. Rounding out the comic performances is Trevor William Fayle as Sir Eglamour, a brief but memorable turn as a boy scout taking off at the first sign of a danger with a hilarious high-stepping run and very prolonged yell of terror.
Director Kathryn MacMillan keeps the production moving at a steady clip, balancing musical breaks, pratfalls, and empowering call outs of Proteus’ behavior. MacMillan maintains a constant element of groundedness throughout the play’s shenanigans, which helps anchor the comedic and emotional extremes to something substantial. Lance Kniskern’s set design, meanwhile, pulls in the opposite direction. Incorporating the slope of Clark Park’s bowl as the stage, the set’s main dressing is the freestanding doors and floating windows slung between the trees. Strings of gazebo lights accent the production’s retro feel, but as the sky darkens, the trees take the spotlight with a brilliant fuchsia glow.
The result is an excellent reminder of the unique power of a Shakespeare in the park performance, where universal themes — love, betrayal, dog-shaming — are given life by very specific locations; in the world of their park, wider audiences than typical theater-goers bring their own unique perspectives. Shakespeare in Clark Park’s comedy and music augment The Two Gentlemen of Verona just as the set augments the park: an entertaining reminder of the fantastic creative power of the imagination.