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Not since Gossip Girl went off the air has Washington been entertained by such young, attractive, well-dressed backstabbing New Yorkers.
Fiasco Theater, a small troupe that specializes in contemporizing the classics without electronic bells and whistles, has taken up residence at the Folger Theatre with a buoyant new production of Two Gentleman of Verona. The result is Shakespeare at its most relatable, in a production that presents Two Gents as the best play for teenagers that the Bard ever laid upon a stage. Screw Romeo and Juliet. Star-crossed lovers seem so 16th century compared to these vengeful BFFs.
The youthful appeal starts with the costume design. Whitney Locher has her two leading ladies wear dresses that a creative director from Anthropologie should knock off in time for wedding season. (Free cross-promotional business idea. You’re welcome.) Both the titular gentleme and their fathers and various hangers-on all appear to shop for linen suits and paisley ties at J. Crew and Vineyard Vines. Every accessory—from the bulbous hanging lanterns to the men’s patent and suede Oxford shoes—-is in a shade of pink, baby blue, or beige. It shouldn’t be possible for the aesthetic of a production without a single set piece to be so stunning.
The same theater company that has all cast members coordinate their socks also pays meticulous detail to Shakespeare’s text. Four of the six actors play multiple roles, but subtle accent changes and accessory swaps make it easy to tell the characters apart. Five of the six actors are also products of the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Acting M.F.A, and have the familiar chemistry of kids who have been besties since grad student orientation weekend. Noah Brody plays Proteus, the hot guy who lays a pretty intense farewell kiss on Jessie Austrian, his real-life wife and the onstage girlfriend he must leave behind after his father orders him to continue his education in Milan. Once there, he decides he prefers Sylvia (Emily Young), the beau of his childhood chum Valentine (Zachary Fine). Austrian has a great introductory scene with Young as her letter-bearing maid, Lucetta. Upon not receiving the communiqué she hoped from Proteus, Austrian repeatedly cries “Fie, Fie” the way a girl might pound her fists and yell “fuck” seconds after sending a regrettable Snapchat.
Much hilarity is made of the letters characters send each other in this play, culminating in a rain of parchment paper from the rafters. Several times, the script cleverly cuts between characters reading a letter aloud and the sender scurrying onstage to deliver the news in person. Andy Grotelueschen drew laughs as he rotated between Proteus’s scolding dad, Sylvia’s overbearing father, and Lance, a doddering servant. The latter character frequently hollered “ass,” which amused a gaggle of teenagers in the balcony on press night. Fine (who plays both the lovelorn Valentine and Lance’s dog) lapped up the attention. At curtain call, he winked repeatedly and waved at the high school girls, who appeared to pretty much faint. He’s probably twice their age, but can be forgiven for pandering, because taking a kid to see great Shakespeare like this will do more for live theater then Leonardo DiCaprio ever did.