Josef Bodenbender and Chip Simmons in Two Gentlemen of Verona

Over the past few years, I have taken in quite a number of Genesius Guild offerings and I have to tell you that the Two Gentlemen of Verona set design by Angela Rathman, who also served as this production’s director, was one of the most intricate and prettiest I’ve ever seen in Lincoln Park. Featuring vines, florals, and trees, it was a truly stunning backdrop. Saturday’s opening began as is typical of Genesius Guild: First we heard from artistic director Isabel Dawson, and then Rathman herself stepped on to her beauty of a stage to explain a few key points about Shakespeare’s script.

Two Gentlemen of Verona is about, not surprisingly, two gentlemen – Valentine (Gabe Thompson) and Proteus (Geno DelPreore) – as they travel from their hometown of Verona to Milan. Along the way, they each attempt to woo the lovely Sylvia (Erica Heiselman), even though Proteus is already engaged to Julia (Olivia Akers). Of course, there's much more to the story, but Rathman explained that her version is purposefully streamlined, and we were in for a fast-paced unfolding. In order to help us, as an audience, keep track of whether the cast was in Verona or Milan, there was a spinning table with a banner featuring either an “M” or a “V.” While Dawson and Rathman weren’t half as funny as they perhaps hoped they'd be at the end of their time on stage, especially given the missed opportunity to poke fun at the local pronunciation of “Milan,” they established the most important thing to keep in mind about this production: that everyone in Verona's cast was between the ages of 16 and 20.

Olivia Akers and Tatyana Delpreore in Two Gentlemen of Verona

Rathman’s production was surprisingly swift, with this edited version of the Bard's comedy coming in at just an hour long. Unfortunately, to me, it seemed as though some of the speed was due to the actors’ run-on delivery of their lines. This rapidity made it almost impossible to understand what was being said at all times. Luckily, the script itself is easy enough to follow, even if every bit of the individual conversations were hard to make out. But I also don’t feel like I have ever wanted to holler out at a cast to savor their lines and “Slow down!” more.

In Verona's brisk performance, this meant that Akers’ Julia was a welcome breath of fresh air. Akers brought a commanding presence to the stage that elevated those she interacted with: her energy, whether lovelorn or distraught, was clearly focused. An early monologue, as she picked up tiny pieces of a love letter, was both heartfelt and hilarious, traits that describe Akers’ performance from start to finish. Akers (dressed as a boy, as one does in Shakespearean comedies) confronting Sylvia about Proteus is a real treat, but the performer is an endearingly comedic force throughout.

Not to be outdone by Akers, Josef Bodenbender appeared delightfully confident in his role of Lance. Armed with a stuffed dog in a carrier and a handful of sticks, Bodenbender was full of tales regarding his beloved pooch. While Lance’s monologues didn’t often move the plot forward, they were undoubtedly the parts of Saturday's presentation that earned the biggest laughs and audience enthusiasm. When Bodenbender was able to interact with the other servant, Speed (Chip Simmons), the duo made for quite a pair. It certainly helped that costume designer Shannon Ryan had both Lance and Speed dressed in identical servant wear.

Geno DelPreore in Two Gentlemen of Verona

The costumes in Two Gentlemen of Verona were another highlight – this snappy show is a visual feat for the eyes. From the Duke’s stately robe to the outlaws’ pirate-y garb, Ryan’s costumes certainly made everyone shine. Complementing the costumes was Andy Shearouse’s simple-and-sweet lighting design – exactly what was needed for this open-air production.

On Saturday, a few sprinkles hit the area toward the end of the show, which was a particularly inopportune time for that to occur. Sadly, it felt as though the light rain was distracting members of both the audience and the onstage talent. But because The Show Must Go On, Rathman’s cast powered through. The result was that the final applause was so thunderous that I couldn’t even make out what song was playing; the audience enthusiasm was just that over the top. Just as Shakespeare wrote a happy ending for Two Gentlemen of Verona, there couldn’t have been a sweeter ending for this pithy little production.


Two Gentlemen of Verona runs at Lincoln Park's Don Wooten Stage (1120 40th Street, Rock Island IL) through June 18, and more information is available by visiting

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