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Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Fiasco Theater Visits The Folger Shakespeare Theatre

I went to see the Fiasco Theater’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. yesterday.

It’s hilarious!

If you are anywhere near Washington, do yourself a favor and go see this great show!

It runs until 25 May, so you better hurry!

Fiasco Theater is based out of New York City, and has received great acclaim for their productions of Two Gentlemen of Verona, Measure for Measure, Cymbeline and Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

They have come to the Folger for the first time, and in addition to Two Gents, they’re doing a very short run of Cymbeline at the Folger from 28 May to 1 June. 

Tickets to that are almost all sold out, so you have to REALLY hurry up!

Here is a link to learn more about the show at Folger, and get tickets:

Here’s a link for more information about Fiasco:

Some of the Fiasco players

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want to share some thoughts about this show.

I loved it!

I have to admit that I have never seen it performed live. I had read it years ago, and re-read it more recently in order to understand how it fits into Shakespeare’s life, in regards to my Shakespeare Solved versions of the plays.

I found it entertaining to read, but watching performed by such expert players was thrilling!

I could see how badly this play could be performed if it were in the wrong hands, but this cast did a superb job of wringing as much comedy out it as possible.

The energy, the enthusiasm, and the artistic choices each actor made all added up to one of the greatest performances of Shakespeare I have ever seen. 

Emily Young as Silvia

It seems that this group of actors chose the name Fiasco because they want to make brave choices as actors and really connect with the audience. They do this with great ease, and the audience I was with was laughing all the way through.

As far as brave choices is concerned, the bravest of all is to see and engage the audience. Most productions suffer because the audience is invisible to the performers and they do nothing to include them.

Fiasco doesn’t make the audience part of the play as much as they could (or should, in my humble opinion) but they acknowledge the audience enough to make the play more fun, as it should be.

Zachary Fine as Valentine with Emily Young

It also seems like they even surprise each other on stage. When Ursula — a character who only appears once in the play — brings a picture to Silvia, the actor as Ursula rushed on stage and made the other actors crack up and break character for a moment. It is refreshing and unexpected moments like this that makes this happily unlike most any other Shakespeare I have seen.

The ensemble is very small, only 6 actors, and they never leave the stage area. It was even fun to see the actors not performing at the moment enjoy the actors who were performing. It is clear that as actors they support each other and are constantly trying to entertain themselves at the same time they are entertaining the audience.

Unlike other Shakespeare productions I have seen, there is no lead actor, there is no one star performer. It is a true ensemble. Each actor would be a star in another company of actors. They are each masters in their own right, and the quality of the production is exponentially increased by each actor’s contribution to the show.

Jessie Austrian as Julia with Noah Brody as Proteus

I can’t single out any of them as better than any other. They each have their moments to shine and they all make the most of it.

And what makes them truly remarkable is that they never seem to break a sweat. They make it look effortless and easy to dust off one of Shakespeare’s problematic plays and make it light and funny and unforgettable.

They all play an instrument or two, and there are several quite lovely musical moments in the play.

It was also one of the fastest productions I have seen, running at just over 2 hours. I didn’t even notice how fast it was until it was over.

Zachary Fine, Emily Young, Andy Grotelueschen, Paul L. Coffey and Noah Brody

What was exciting for me personally was the fact that I could better understand this play as it would have been written and performed in Shakespeare’s lifetime. Fiasco perfectly understands the screwball nature of the play, and they make this play a window into Shakespeare’s madcap Elizabethan world.

For example, Andy Grotelueschen as Launce had a very clear understanding of the kind of humor Shakespeare’s clown Will Kemp employed to make audiences laugh at The Theatre in Shoreditch circa 1595. 

Kemp was more of a stand-up comedian than an actor. I think he would stop the show for as long as he wanted as he improvised off-script. If ever there was a Shakespeare play where Kemp could hold court and take his time, and make fun of a Groundling or two, this is the play.

Also, I enjoyed seeing how Shakespeare was writing for and about his artistic patrons, the Earls of Essex and Southampton when it comes to Proteus and Valentine. 

For example, in 1593 Shakespeare's rival playwright Thomas Nashe wrote a very bawdy poem called The Choice of Valentines, which was a parody of Shakespeare's earlier and hugely popular erotic work Venus and Adonis -- which was the Fifty Shades of Grey of the period.

Nashe's poem was most probably dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, who was arguably the prettiest man in England and whose romantic escapades inspired Shakespeare to write Romeo and Juliet.

In any case, I can’t recommend this show highly enough, and you should order your tickets as soon as possible.


David B. Schajer


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