Two for the show

In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I return to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival to catch up with its other two summer shows, The Liar and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Here’s an excerpt.

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The acid test of a new comedy is how well it works the second time you see it. On first viewing, you’re too busy laughing to give any thought to its staying power, much less to the many ways in which the staging and performances are enhancing the effectiveness of the script. It’s for that reason that I made a point of catching the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s production of “The Liar,” David Ives’ rhyming “translaptation” of Pierre Corneille’s 1643 verse play about a can-you-top-this serial exaggerator (played by Jason O’Connell) who is incapable of telling the unadorned truth. When I first saw it at Chicago’s Writers’ Theatre, I came away willing to bet that it was the funniest play ever written, give or take “Noises Off.” Now that I’ve seen “The Liar” done by a different cast, I’m sure of it.

safe_image.phpMr. O’Connell has the perfect sense of timing that’s needed in order to sustain Mr. Ives’ comic tirades all the way to the payoff. A burly stand-up comedian turned classical actor who is blessed with a broad, expressive face, he’s equally adept at speaking verse and doing pratfalls….

Eric Tucker is best known as the artistic director of Bedlam, the vest-pocket drama company whose shoestring-simple four-person productions of “Hamlet” and “Saint Joan” last season made him one of the most talked-about stage directors in New York. Now he’s making his Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival debut with “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” in which he proves to be identically and gratifyingly adept at what you might call lowbrow-highbrow comedy.

Hudson Valley goes in for high-concept stagings of Shakespeare’s comedies, and Mr. Tucker has obliged by turning “Two Gentlemen” into a “Your Show of Shows”-style parody of an Italian beach-blanket movie, with everybody dressed in the gaudiest possible Sunday-comics primary colors (bravo, Rebecca Lustig, for your million-kilowatt costumes) and accompanied by super-hip incidental music that ranges from Lana Del Rey to will.i.am. Mr. Tucker’s knack for physical comedy is so sure that the audience even kept on laughing when a thunderstorm drowned out the actors’ dialogue….

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To read my review of The Liar, go here.

To read my review of Two Gentlemen of Verona, go here.

UPDATE: I mistakenly credited Christopher V. Edwards with the staging of The Liar in today’s review. In fact, the show was directed by Russell Treyz. Edwards staged the Othello that I reviewed last Friday. My humble apologies.

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