As you settle into the Old Globe-like Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn for Theatre for a New Audience/Fiasco Theater’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, an unfamiliar occurrence or patrons begins to take shape. The cast strolls by you with smiles and waves, and warmly give a hug to those they know in the crowd. They even let you know when you have a few extra minutes to hit the restroom.
Fiasco Theater—the company behind an acclaimed trunk version of Cymbeline and the glorious production of Into the Woods seen at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Off Broadway space earlier this year—are content to demolish that fourth wall, and it serves this upbeat, charming take on Shakespeare’s early-life comedy quite well. Verona, which tells the tale of a pair of friends, Proteus (Noah Brody) and Valentine (Zachary Fine), and their complicated, and this being the Bard, farcical relationships with the lady loves in their lives (Jessie Austrian and Emily Young, both very appealing here), is oft-referred as the prototype for the rom-com, so given the company’s all-smiles, tune-filled take on the classics, it seems a perfect fit.
Decked out in Whitney Locher’s pastel-parsed suits on Derek McLane’s tsunami-of-letters set, Verona is somewhat less enveloping than their earlier fare, perhaps because the stakes don’t seem as dramatically high here, but the company find cheeky ways to play with the material. Andy Grotelueschen, who memorably assumed the role of Milky White the cow in Woods, is hilarious as doltish servant Launce, with trusty dog Crab in tow (Fine, again, who amusingly lets an occasional human phrase slip in to his canine portrayal), and the shrewd casting of handsome, strapping Fiasco co-founder Brody as the increasingly off-putting Proteus (who really might be one of Shakespeare’s most hissable creations) offsets some of the less-modern ick the character gives off. You may not be in the midst of Fiasco’s finest hour(s) to date, but their unbridled enthusiasm is utterly infectious. Time goes by with thee most agreeably. B+