The Ladies of Verona

In the days of William Shakespeare, women were forbidden to perform in theater, so all the female roles were done by young boys. Yes, Juliet was played by a guy. Ophelia, Rosalind, Titania, Cleopatra, Desdemona, and Lady Macbeth were all portrayed by dudes. A lot has changed since the days of Elizabethan theater. It's only fair that now, in the 21st century, Red Monkey Theater has presented Two Gentlemen of Verona with an all-female cast.  The good news is that the gimmick is quickly forgotten thanks to the talents of the ladies on stage and the creative choices by director Tal Aviezer. This is what it must have been like in the glory days of the Globe Theatre, as audiences watched Shakespeare's troupe, Lord Chamberlain's Men, not distracted by the gender switches, but connected to the characters and caught up in the story.

The story has always been a light one about friendship and infidelity, not my favorite of the Bard's comedies, but this production succeeds in keeping my attention from scene to scene, drawing hearty laughs and other emotions from me, with quite a few surprises even though I knew the plot. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it truly is the best production of the play I've ever seen.

While everyone on the crew deserves praise, from the set designer, the choreographer, the costume designer, the lighting operator, the musical director, and all the rest, the success of the show rests squarely on the capable shoulders of these fine women who have brought each of these characters to life in such a fresh and engaging way.

The bond between young friends Valentine and Proteus, realistically portrayed by Holland Renton and Julie Thaxter-Gourlay, is captivating to behold.  Lust-at-first-sight threatens their relationship. More than just nailing the male mannerisms that their roles require, they also deliver the emotional goods.  Ms. Thaxter-Gourlay is especially wonderful, delivering a tour de force throughout, making me relate to her love-struck heart-breaker, who does foolish and hurtful acts in the name of passion. Sure, Proteus is a cad, a reprehensible lothario who would backstab his buddy Valentine and toss aside his girlfriend Julia (played marvelously by Rebekah Madebach) for the attention of another.  That "other" is Sylvia, a strong portrayal by Amelia Huckel-Bauer. Still, we cannot help but be enthralled by what Proteus is doing, sitting on the edge of our seats to witness what he will do next, thrilling at how far he will go, and loving the vulnerability that Thaxter-Gourlay brings to the character at the end.

There is no weak link in the cast, each actress bringing her all to the tale.  Kelly Kirby is magnificent as the bearded Duke and Jessica Rodwick is a delight as Thurio, bringing an exotic and hilarious vigor every second she has on stage. Sandra Ehrlich does a fine job as the comedic Launce, and Emily Gordon Seif is equally memorable in multiple roles, not the least of which is Crab the Dog!  Abby Wilde and Kimberley Lowden also have dual roles and bring their "A" game, making each distinct and notable. Zoey Rutherford is playful and endearing as Speed.

They all execute both the over-the-top moments, which draw easy and welcome laughs from the audience, and the more challenging subtle instants that nevertheless are powerful enough to embed themselves in my memory. One example is a dance scene in which Valentine says more with her silent glances at Sylvia than any of Shakespeare's poetic lines ever could.

The production is splendid and sublime, magnificent and magical. However many adjectives I could muster to describe my reaction to the play, it is all insufficient to truly capture how much fun this show is. You'll all have to go experience it for yourselves.  The Two Gentlemen of Verona closes on Sunday, so reserve your tickets now at