English playwright William Shakespeare is considered one of the world’s best ever dramatists, thanks in part to universally celebrated works like “Hamlet,” “MacBeth,” “King Lear”and “Othello.”
But the Bard wrote comedies as well as tragedies. In fact, “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” with its themes of friendship and infidelity, the conflict between friendship and love, and the sometimes comical behavior people in love can exhibit, is considered by some to be Shakespeare’s very first play.
The Foothill Performing Arts Council (FPAC) will stage a high-energy production of “Two Gentlemen” for three weekends, beginning Friday, July 21.
“If you love to laugh, you’re going to enjoy it,” says “Cupid,” aka actor Mary Zastrow, 30, in describing the Tony Award -winning musical.
“Imagine if (comedic actor) Kevin Heart did Shakespeare,” added actor Jared Grimble, 29, who plays “Valentine.”
There are falls, lively dancing and plenty of songs in a combination of R&B, Rock, Pop and Country. There are 42 songs throughout the play (some very short, some as long as three minutes) and there are also plenty of funny moments.
“It has comedy and they managed to jazz it up. It’s pretty awesome,” Grimble said.
A large portion of the production’s cast and crew are local, made up of alumni and current students from San Fernando, Sylmar, Cesar E. Chavez, Verdugo Hills, La Crescenta and Bishop Alemany High schools. Other performers attend Los Angeles Mission College, Los Angeles Valley College and California State University Northridge (CSUN).
Most of them have performed in the FPAC’s summer sessions before, or knew Tim Borquez, “Verona’s” director and producer, from other productions and the work he’s done at those schools. They are all volunteer performers who work and are pursuing careers in acting.
One of the main characters — “Sylvia” — is played by actor Bethany Redwood, a Lake View Terrace native who gets to showcase her amazing pipes throughout the play.
“I’ve been singing and doing theater since I was in middle school,” said the 23-year-old Los Angeles Mission College student.
“I love the character, and the songs are great.”
Redwood believes the message of the play remains relevant 500 years after it was written.
“It’s about loving yourself and loving people,” she said.
There’s jealousy, treachery, romance, dancing, music, songs and just about everything else. About the only thing it doesn’t include “is Facebook,” Grimble said.
“It pushes the envelope, but in a good way,” Borquez said. “It’s an amalgamation of a great Pop/Rock and R&B score (written by the composer of HAIR) and, of course, Shakespeare’s wonderful commentary on what humans will do in the midst of their journey to finding and being in love.”
Borquez, a native of Pacoima, is the FPAC’s executive director and founder.
FPAC has been producing musical theatre and concert events in the Foothill area since 1998.
In the past 10-15 years, FPAC has also mentored and provided instruction in musical theatre production and performance at local high schools like Cesar E. Chavez’ ArTES Arts Magnet (Arts and Entertainment School) and the Verdugo Hills High School Visual and Performing Arts Academy (VAPA).
Just about every year since it started, the FPAC has produced a musical, providing artists ages 6 to 65 a chance to participate in all aspects of “putting on a show” in the community theatre tradition.
Since Cesar Chavez and the ArTES program started, the FPAC has been offered afterschool and specialized instruction in musical theatre and technical production.
This year, the FPAC was invited to present their summer production at the high school.
A former actor, Borquez has been a sound designer for the past 34 years, doing sound for cartoons and movies.
But his heart is in the theater and that’s why he founded FPAC.
He said some of the students in the productions go on to work for his company as sound engineers. Others receive a much needed boost in their search to become working actors in Hollywood.
For some these productions are the first time they get to see, much less perform, in live theater.
“They’ve never been exposed to this type of thing,” Borquez said. “I try to bring a change in their confidence.
“Perhaps they will not go into acting, but they get over that hurdle and it helps them to find a job.”
“Two Gentlemen of Verona, the Musical”, will be presented for three weekends starting Friday, July 21, at The ArTES Theatre @ Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academies, 1001 Arroyo Ave. in San Fernando. Admission is $20 for adults 20 and over, and $15 for seniors and students ages 13-19. Kids ages of 10-12 are free.This show is not recommended for children under 10 years of age. Tickets will be available at the door, or can be purchased online at Brown Paper Tickets or by calling (888) 89-SHOWS (897-4697).