The production of William Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen Of Verona that reopened the rebuilt Globe Theatre in London in August 1996 opens today, Jan. 12, at Off-Broadway's New Victory Theatre.
Its star will be one of the world's foremost keepers of the Shakespeare flame, Mark Rylance. Rylance took on the project -- originally begun by actor Sam Wanamaker - of rebuilding Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, now rechristened the International Shakespeare's Globe Centre.
Of all Shakespeare's canon, Rylance chose this play in this production as the first of the Bard's plays to be performed on that stage since the original Globe burned down in the 17th century. This historic production opened in August 1996, and is visiting New York as part of an exchange that will bring American actors to London's Globe in summer 1997.
Jack Shepard directs the farce, which includes the original cast: Lennie James (Valentine, the "other" Gentleman), Steven Alvey, Graham Brown, Jim Bywater (Outlaw), Andrew Fielding, Anastasia Hille (Sylvia), George Innes, Aicha Kossoko, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Stephanie Roth, Matthew Scurfield and Ben Walden.
Jenny Tirami designed the sets, Susan Coates the costumes -- but there will be no lighting design, per se: as in the Globe space, the production won't employ "theatrical lighting, stage effects of amplification." There will be original music, however, by Claire Van Kampen. Rylance has been a longtime friend of director Barry Kyle, and the actor starred in TFANA's well-regarded Henry V in 1993. "Mark Rylance is one of the theatre's finest artists," said artistic/producing director Jeffrey Horowitz. Rylance responded: "It will be very exciting to perform The Two Gentlemen Of Veronoa In front of a new audience and in a different theatre. The Globe will have a chance to say thank you to the Americans who have invested so much in Sam Wanamaker's vision to rebuild the Globe Theatre."
Of the specialized staging, Horowitz noted, "The Globe is an open-air theatre with a thrust stage. Nearly one-third of its audience are groundlings who stand in what for us is the orchestra. There's an informality and a strong actor-audience connection. The [indoor] New Victory is a completely different configuration that retains the intimacy of that connection, and it will be exhilarating for the company to play in this new theatre for American audiences."
Of Rylance, Horowitz told Playbill On-Line, "Mark wants to realize Shakespeare in a vivid, non-declamatory way, a goal that I share. In the Globe, the front space is for 600 groundlings. They're paying the least yet have the best seats in the house, which means the connection with the audience is very direct. We may even have people sitting on the stage."
Tickets ($10-$25) are expected to be scarce for the production, which runs only to Jan. 26 and has reserved several of its performances for weekday school-group matinees. For more information on Two Gentlemen Of Verona, call (212) 239-6200.
-- By David Lefkowitz