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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, August 1, 2002

Shakespeare shines in new college theater

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Theater Critic

Luka Lyman, background, is Proteus and Elizabeth Wolfe is Valentine in an all-female production of "Two Gentlemen of Verona," the second of three productions in the continuing Shakespeare Festival at Windward Community College's Paliku Theatre.

Brad Goda

. . .

'Two Gentlemen of Verona'

• 8 p.m. today, 4 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. Aug. 10
• Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College
• $15
• 235-7433, 526-4400

Experiencing the new Paliku Theatre at Windward Community College would be reason enough to attend Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona," the second of three plays in this summer series.

The new building is set between the ocean and the mountains, surrounded by green lawns, generous courtyards and ample parking, and offers 300 stadium seats with great acoustics and excellent stage views. The thrust stage and simple arrangement of platforms and steps provides excellent playing space, and one would have to search hard for a better setting.

Tony Pisculli directs this early comedy and opts for a presentational style, heightened by casting the play entirely with women. This is probably a good choice for a play devoted to love and friendship, in which the leading males treat the women and each other very badly, yet are folded into a happy ending where male friendship is more important than heterosexual bonding.

It must be an Elizabethan thing.

Taking a step back from reality casting also removes the play from having to meet contemporary expectations for realistic character motivation and development. Pisculli's choices help us understand that the young Shakespeare was writing to make a bit of money by pleasing his audience — giving them some love complications and a comic bit with a dog.

The entire festival also is dedicated to Terence Knapp, the generous mentor and Shakespeare promoter now retired from active teaching at the University of Hawai'i. So, "Two Gentlemen" is best viewed from Knapp's perspective to avoid over-analyzing in favor of relaxing and enjoying the work.

Luka Lyman takes the central role of Proteus, who acts like a thorough cad in double-crossing everyone else when smitten by the lovely Sylvia (Noelle Poole). He blows the cover of his best friend Valentine (Elizabeth Wolfe), whom Sylvia genuinely loves, undercuts Thurio (M. J. Coats), an older suitor favored by Sylvia's father, and crudely dumps his own girlfriend Julia (Jennifer Robideau).

Finally, when Sylvia is within his grasp, he forces himself on her and — when she refuses — strikes her.

Proteus is hardly our choice of a protagonist for a romantic comedy with a crudely imposed happy ending. But Lyman handles the language well, with enough physical swagger to suggest that Proteus' blood supply has been diverted to an organ other than his brain.

Robideau is excellent as Julia, helping those of us in the 21st century almost accept that she could remain devoted to such a scoundrel. Poole, Wolfe, and Coats bring clarity to the lines, although not with enough confidence for us to accept it as their natural speech.

Jessica Haworth is Speed, Angela Elbern is the Duke, and Jennifer Vo, Tiana Krohn-Ching, and Jennie Frazer do triple duty in several supporting roles.

But "Two Gentlemen" does create a vehicle for one of Shakespeare's best comic characters — Lance, the servant foolishly devoted to his ungrateful dog Crab. Linda Johnson takes on the role and makes it the high point of the production.

In a series of short monologues, Johnson creates a delightful snapshot of a natural dimwit who takes the blame for his animal's poor behavior and thereby earns a whipping and time in the pillory. Pisculli also uses Lance in pantomimes to open and close the play and tide over the intermission.

The production is beautifully designed. Lloyd Riford's flexible platforms and lighting dissolve under the action, supporting it without distracting focus. Sandra Finney's costumes are primarily in glorious white with black accents, shading to brown for the lower classes and adding a bit of red for the servants. Feather trim and startling facial hair add visual punctuation.

This Shakespeare festival adds a welcome note to the Hawaiian summer. One hopes it will be the first of many to follow.