Getting Funky with Breakdancing Shakespeare

Let me preface all of this by saying that I am down with Shakespeare, but I am nowhere near funky. (Does anyone even still use that word? I’m too old for new words.) Until a few years ago, I didn’t know who Flavor Flav was. Honestly, I’m the whitest Asian you will ever meet.

So the perfect way to introduce me to new and different things is to combine it with some Willy S. This production of Two Gentlemen of Verona was the product of Hartford Stage’s Neighborhood Studios apprenticeship program, Breakdancing Shakespeare, which is sponsored by the Greater Hartford Arts Council. The Arts Council sponsors several Neighborhood Studios programs for a diverse group of talented teenagers. These range from writing and journalism at The Mark Twain House & Museum to videography at Real Artways to jazz orchestra at Artists’ Collective. I sort of wish they had been around when I was a teenager because it just makes my little nerd heart sing.

In any case, the Anti-Couric readily accepted my request to attend this with me and at $5 a ticket, it made for a really cheap date. Now, Two Gentlemen is not one of the better-known Shakespearean plays. I think this is because it’s sort of boring. I mean, it’s got all of the elements of Will’s stuff–love, disapproving parents, treachery among friends, mistaken identity and some cross-dressing–but for the most part, it’s not full of memorable and quotable lines, terribly wrought characters, or philosophical commentary.

But add in some truly amazing dance numbers to hip-hop music that was vaguely familiar to me (normal people would readily recognize all the songs) and  a mediocre play became a really fun production. First of all, I can’t move like these kids. And it’s not because I’m rapidly aging and am out of shape. I couldn’t move like that at any point in my life. All but one number was mind blowing in both the choreography and execution–and even my “least favorite” was still good–it just didn’t tie into the play as well as the others.

The acting was decent as well, especially for a teenage crowd. Almost every actor seemed comfortable with the language and understood what they were saying in “everyday speech”, although enunciation and projection could have used a little work, but let’s cut these younguns some slack. The fifteen person cast was predominantly African American, but there were Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic members as well–making it a wonderfully diverse group. (How many of us can say we spent out summer making friends from all different backgrounds and ethnicities as a teenager?) The four actors who played the lead love interests all did a wonderful job, although Jimile Bowers, who played Proteus, was my favorite. He was comical and even though the character turns a bit villainous, you still somehow sympathized with him because he was just plain goofy and really portrayed that “couldn’t help it” thing.

I will have to say that my favorite character was the sixteenth member of the cast, Mosie the Dog, who played Crab. He was adorable and calm. Where my dog would have cried and hidden, or the Anti-Couric’s dog would have tried to herd the audience, Mosie was perfect. To boot, Marc Hilyard, who played Launce and “handled” Mosie, interacted perfectly with him and used him as both a counterpart and a prop.

The audience was not your typical Stage audience–it was younger, hipper and more diverse which made for more audible commentary and even hoots and hollers throughout the production. Now, I usually flip out at the movies or shows when audience members are noisy, but this just fit with the show. At the end when the cast was taking final bows and bidding farewell to BDS graduates, the group of young ladies behind us deafened us with their screams of “Go Ashley!!!” “We love you Ashley!!!”…we guessed they were friends of Ashley Richards, who played Silvia and was leaving the group after her third year in the program. I sort of wish all budding actors had such a supporting fan club.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend that you go see Two Gentlemen because we went to the last night of the three-night run. BUT, keep an eye out next year and be sure to check out Breakdancing Shakespeare at the Stage next summer. Two and half salt shakers because the combination ofShakespeare, valuable learning experiences, dogs, and talented teenagers is pretty goddamn salty in my book.