It’s already been two weeks since I caught the last performance of Shakespeare in the Ruff’s Two Gents. First and most important, it’s great to have Shakespeare back in the Danforth’s Withrow Park. I hope the company is a huge success there for a long time.
Second and equally important, I enjoyed the show. The actors are young (mostly) and energetic. I couldn’t help being won over by their enthusiasm.
But since it’s been so long (unfortunately I have a life outside this blog that insists on intruding) I’m going to be lazy and leave the things I liked about the show to this review, which sums them up quite well. (In fact, I’ll be looking out for Robert Cushman’s reviews from now on.) I’ll just say for now that I was less enamored than the reviewer with some of the changes the company made. Heaven knows Two Gentlemen could use some changes, but I didn’t see most of those that turned the play into Two Gents adding up to a coherent whole. The change from Italy to Verona, Ontario and Milan, Manitoba didn’t make any difference, unless it was to provide an excuse for the (actually pretty terrible) songs and Thurio’s multiple Southern accents. (Though last I checked, people in Manitoba did not speak with US Southern accents.) There was no gain in changing the Duke to a Duchess and one of the play’s better physical jokes lost (the Duke pretends to Valentine that he wants to woo a woman locked up in a tower, needs a rope ladder—“And what are you doing with a rope ladder under your cloak?”). And why change Crab the dog to Lily? I fear the reason emerged in the credits; Lily is the dog’s real name. Which implies that it couldn’t be trained to answer to “Crab.” I don’t expect a company that’s operating on a shoestring to afford an animal trainer, but since Crab is the reason most people see this play, it seems important to get his name right. (It didn’t help rescue the Crab scenes that the actor flubbed his lines the night I attended.)
Ah, and then there’s the ending. For now I’ll just say that I disagree completely with the approach the company took; we’ll look at their solution as well as a whole array of others when we get to that point.
For now, note that though I’ve advanced some criticism in this post, I would much rather experience the DIY roughness of Shakespeare in the Ruff than schlep out to an overpriced, polished, but lifeless performance at the Stratford Festival. You should feel the same, or at least give this company your support.