by Terrance Mc Arthur
The Two Gentlemen of Verona isn’t the biggest and flashiest Shakespeare play, but it’s probably one of his first. The training wheels were still on, and he was learning to use some of the plot devices he would master in later plays. It’s a simple story, one you might see on a TV sitcom, and the Woodward Shakespeare Festival has given a bright, peppy, 50s look wrapped up in early rock-and-roll tunes that hearkens back to reruns of Happy Days.Valentine and Proteus, a Richie-Pottsy pair of friends, are going their separate ways after their high school graduation. Valentine (Broderic Beard) is off to college in Milan, and Proteus (Joshua Taber) is staying in Verona to be near his sweetheart, Julia (Tania Tran). In Milan, Valentine falls in love with Silvia (Kayla Weber), daughter of the Duke of Milan (Rick Adamson), who wants to marry her off to Thurio (Alfonso Pacheco), a dull but steady friend of the Duke. Antonio (Greg Taber), father of Proteus, sends the young man to Milan, where he falls for Silvia and forgets Julia, who is feeling lonely in Verona. She decides to go to Milan, disguised as a boy (Of course she does! This is a Shakespearean comedy!). Proteus reveals Valentine’s plans to run away with Silvia, and the Duke banishes Valentine into the woods, where he runs afoul of a pair of robbers (Renee Newlove, Johnathan Gledhill) who might be ancestors of Lenny & Squiggy. Everybody ends up in the woods (Of course they do! This is a Shakespearean comedy!), and everything turns out all right (Of course it does! This is a Shakespearean comedy!).
Beard is angular, nimble, spring-loaded, and emotional. Joshua is cool and calculating, with a touch of what Fonzie might be if he ignored his inner angel. Tran is an unenlightened female, giddy and silly, until she takes on her male persona and becomes more empowered. Weber describes a different character arc, shifting from a high-born lady to an excited near-wench. Adamson is autocratic and stuffy, while Pacheco is a gray flannel suit without a soul. Gledhill is tall and thin, while Newlove is feisty.
Celeste Johnson’s costumes are fun and frivolous, more sitcom than Elizabethan. Lisa Taber’s direction is light and breezy, matching the evenings of the Festival Stage in the northeast of Woodward Park. Shows start at 8 p.m., and the play is free (donations are gleefully accepted), although park admission is $5 for cars. This is closing weekend for the show. For reserved seating, see www.woodwardshakespeare.org.
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