Ay, but hearken, sir; a Fun Evening Out Ahead
Michael Donato is an actor, director, and improvisor that is active in Honolulu’s theatre scene. He is the reviews editor for Hitting The Stage.
This was my first time watching Shakespeare outside. If you’ve never done it, I highly recommend it, at least at the historic Hawaiian Mission Houses. Nestled in the heart of Honolulu across from Honolulu Hale, you might think that “city noise” is something to contend with, but it’s not the case here. With a sacred coral stage, a clear sound system, and one of the most inventive lighting setups I’ve ever seen before, the “city noise” silently transforms into another layer woven into the production. It’s all very fitting and cozy, then the production starts, and you realize director Will Haʻo has a well-trained finger on the pulse of our times as this location itself has a pulse on Honolulu.
Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of, if not the, earliest works of William Shakespeare. Many themes and elements present in his later works surface in the text, and it’s fun to find out which you can spot and recall. The plot follows the titular “Two Gentlemen,” Valentine (Brandon DiPaola) and Proteus (Nick Jeffs), as the former leaves Verona for Milan and the latter comes and follows him. Valentine, as soon as he gets to Milan, falls for and tries to win the affections of socialite Sylvia (Melanie Kohler). Proteus, engaged to his beloved Julia (Lacey Chu) in Verona, soon forgets about any love he had and also falls for Sylvia when he finds himself in Milan. Proteus then schemes to win Sylvia’s affections for himself while Julia follows him in disguise- her love for him knows no bounds, but what she discovers may not be to her liking. Thus, the plot races forward.
A solid cast has been assembled. DiPaola and Jeffs play the part of two men driven by two different sides of “love” well, with Jeffs heel turn being interesting to watch as he embraces his scheming side, leaving the audience loving to hate him. Kohler’s Sylvia comes off as this high class, up and coming woman when in reality all she wants is honesty and love. Chu is a tour de force as Julia, running the emotional of gamut of love and utter despair with aplomb. Nick Atiburcio plays a New Jersey lisp-donning Thurio as a delightfully dim and harmless tough guy, brightening any scene he’s in. Troy M. Apostol is the rapping and hip page Speed, bringing high energy and playfulness that the audience always clamored for. Richard Valasek soliloquizes with the best of them as Launce, and brings along actual dog Ginnie Wolf, who plays Crab the Dog. While Ginnie obviously stole the show with her cuteness and pleasantness (a hilarious counter to Valasek’s Launce), the whole company is remarkably tight and talented.
Haʻo has set the production in the modern times of Hawaiʻi, specifically starting on Maui, where the play opens with a “SUGAR PLANTATION CLOSED” sign in a reference, homage even, to the recent announced closure of the A&B Hawaiʻi Commerical & Sugar Plantation on Maui. This is the Verona that Haʻo envisions- elegant in its simplicity, and warmly thought of for its hard work and honesty. He takes the production to Waikiki, this production’s equivalent of Milan, in a swath of changing colors, loud blaring club music, and people dressed up even just to walk on the street- you know, almost like taking a walk down the strip. With these locations as the anchors, the fabulous sound, costume, and prop design help make the final leap to our contemporary world a genuine one. The story itself is also very mirroring of our contemporary dating scene- who knew that hiding your romantic partners and backstabbing your friends just for a love interest would be considered timeless?
This show is a Shakespearean comedy. In the end, love wins. You’ll win too if you see this show- it has one weekend left. Go forth and enjoy this fun production outside.