Each year, Shakespeare in Clark Park (SCP) proves to be one of the most enchanting and romantic summer evenings in Philly. Their productions draw a diverse audience to the park’s natural amphitheater called “the bowl,” and Shakespeare’s poetic language did indeed delight an audience of 1,100 last Friday who came out for The Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Kathryn MacMillan.
Something about Shakespeare’s comedies in the outdoors, a certain liberated atmosphere, makes them extra fun. Or maybe it’s just that in an age of verbal declension, we have an unquenched desire to hear beautiful language and complete sentences.
At the hop
This is one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays and its clunky structure is inescapable. However, it has its own delights, with passionate comic characters floating some gorgeous poetry. The company brought these aspects to the fore.
Jake Blouch played hapless Proteus, one step behind his own romantic missteps, trying to impress two women. David Glover played ever noble and equally goofy Valentine, heading off to Milan for love and mishaps. Claire Inie-Richards’s Julia looked like a ‘50s teenybopper but in her efforts to find the truth about Proteus’s fidelity, she revealed a determined spirit.
Maria Konstantinidis was hilarious as the Milan cosmopolitan Silvia, not ready to have her heart held captive. Meghan Winch played the earthy Lance, singing out Shakespeare’s comic truths of the heart to her scene partner, Peanut (a gorgeous dachshund-poodle mix who played the faithful companion Crab, and knew better than to upstage her).
MacMillan picked up some of the play’s slack by adding dance and music interludes. SCP productions involve community engagement, and this year they included the Lindy and Blues (LaB) community dancers, dressed in jaunty ‘50s sock-hop wear by Natalia de la Torre. Dresses and cuffs flared out as the group danced a decidedly campy Lindy to the Suburban Jazz Quintet’s swinging, big-band arrangements of “One O’Clock Jump,” “April in Paris,” and “You Go to My Head.”
Sounds of the city
The production sprawled out over the expanse of the hill’s slope, decorated with Lance Kniskern’s set design, which included petite chandeliers hanging from tree branches. Shannon Zura’s lighting faded in dramatically at sunset, and John Kolbinski’s sound design was so balanced in this setting that not a “Zounds!” went missing among any background noise.
Meanwhile, the park’s activities continued: A group of five young men heading for the nearby basketball court stopped along the park path, halted by Glover’s performance; dogs ran nearby and kids rolled down a hill; parents strolled with strollers, kids swung on swings.
A few dogs barked in the audience, and other attention getters, such as the birds, made noise in the trees. It was all part of the natural sounds that made the Shakespeareans romping in the bowl all the sweeter. And one final natural wonder happened on this night: For more than two hours, not one cell phone rang.
To read Anndee Hochman's essay about this production's contemporary relevance, click here.