The comedy by William Shakespeare, presented outdoors and free in Central Park by Joseph Papp and the New York Summer Shakespeare Festival. Directed by Stuart Vaughan.
July 31, 1957
Burlesque came back to New York with a bang last week when “Two Gentlemen of Verona” opened in Central Park. This makes for the happiest news of the summer.
There’s everything—crude comedians, dirty jokes, flower pots, jugglers, dancing bears, a funny dog, pretty girls dolled up like trees, pretty girls necking around with handsome young men, ice-cream hawkers in the background—everything except the naked nipple, and to make up for that there’s even a belly-dancer with the wondrous name of Chrysoula Frangos. “Hey,” said an honest townsman crouched next to me on the greensward, “dis Shakespeare wrote good slapstick, huh?” It seemed to have shook him to the chops.
To the Winds
Producer Papp and director Vaughan of the New York Summer Shakespeare Festival have thrown all caution to the winds. I did not expect it and I am delighted. IF this is Shakespeare for the masses all I can say is that I am one of them on evenings like these.
There’s no one I can think of to fault in the company, from the leading actors down to the expert electricians. Anne Meara is a heart, handsome, lusty Julia straight out of some sixteenth-century paradise of long-stemmed redheads; Peggy Bennion’s Sylvia, in fine contrast, is dark and dangerous and dashing. Very dashing indeed in a similar if sneaking way is the Proteus of Paul Stevens-he who with one breath swears eternal love to the beauteous Miss Meara, and with the next, having been packed off by papa to Milan, blithely sets about trying to swipe the best-beloved of his best friend. That would be Valentine, the other young gentlemen of Verona, and the girl at issue would be of course Miss Bennion. Valentine in the hands of Robert Blackburn is as blunt, bewildered, and charming a type as you might find this side of Princeton.
A Wandering Cur
The low comedians are Jack Cannon, all fuse and fluster as Valentine’s servant Speed, and Jerry Stiller as the squat and sentimental Launce, servant to Proteus and master to Crab, a mongrel dog. Crab is played, says the publicity, by a cur-a dirty white mutt-found wandering through the park during rehearsal. A likely story, but a brilliant buffoon. Cannon and Stiller are brilliant too, somewhat along the lines of Abbott and Costello, a couple of old burlesque hands if ever there were any. The audience was continually flipping. I was right with it, as already noted.
Other names I must mention without actually wishing to skip any, are Robert Geiringer as the fussy-foolish Duke of Milan, turned by “business” and props into a nutty horticulturist; Albert Quinton (Thurio), Joseph Shaw (Eglamour), and Patricia Falkenhain (Lucetta, sweetly sardonic waiting-woman to Julia). Bernie Joy deserves all praise for the vivid gaiety of his costumes, and for whatever assistance he gave Mr. Vaughan in the general décor; the dances choreographed by Herta Payson are, untypically, a great asset; and David Amram, who should’ve been plugged by me on the last show, “Romeo and Juliet,” but wasn’t, as again contributed, with the lightest of touches, just the right amount and sort of Elizabethan mood music.
I might, I guess, say something about the play, which is little-known to most of us, if I didn’t want you to go and see it for yourself, and didn’t consider it the most trivial of works except for who wrote it and perhaps a half-hundred of its lines, chiefly those spoken by the clowns or sung, on one immortal occasion, to Sylvia. Being trivial, it could not be better rendered than in its unabashed burlesque. Do go for yourself. But a word of advice: go early. I arrived at 8:32, two minutes before curtain, and found some 1500 people there before more-or many more than 1500, because I think that’s the capacity of the bleachers and camp-chairs by the Belvedere Tower. As a result, I saw the whole thing from sharp stage right, almost from backstage, alternately standing up and collapsing back onto the ground as the actors would move from the far side of the theater to my own. You can see that it did not dampen my enthusiasm. IND express to 59th Street, local to 79th, walk about two blocks into the park from Central Park West. You can’t miss it.