San Diego, CA---It doesn’t get much better than sitting through a mindless early romantic comedy by The Bard that lasts 95 minutes. Adding to the pleasure of the above, one must mention the weather as a contributing factor particularly at the opening night performance of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” now on stage through Sept. 14th. It was a perfect San Diego evening under the stars outside at the Lowell Davies Festival Stage where shirtsleeves were the norm and not many bulky blankets were seen.
“Gents” may be Shakespeare’s first known comedy for the professional stage, possibly written around 1590. It is perhaps THE first of Shakespeare’s comedies. As with “As You Like It”, “Much Ado”, “Twelfth Night” and “Comedy of Errors” they all involve some or all of the following; mistaken identity, servant clowns of one variation or another, cross-dressing and complicated, but brought on by their own stupidity, love problems. In other words it’s a “drama in which life is treated with humor” and usually has a happy ending or “All’s Well That Ends Well” or it’s “Much Ado About Nothing”. Pick one for “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and it will fit.
Choosing to do “Gents” in period and leaving much of the narrative on the cutting room floor afforded director Mark Lamos (long time associated with Old Globe productions from “Compleat Female Stage Beauty” to Arthur Miller’s Resurrection Blues” in 2004), costume designer Linda Cho, Fritz Patton and his original music, and set designer John Arnone to show of their best stuff by keeping it simple, you know what and giving the audience something to smile about exiting the theatre.
With an eye popping Disneyland looking set (reminded me of trips to Disneyland when one could see The Matterhorn from the freeway) sumptuous looking costumes in brilliant and rich color, brightly lit by Stephen Strawbridge, Lamos and his talented cast set the mood for this romp from the get go with the hysterical Proteus (Adam Kantor) vowing his love for his lady Julia (Kristin Villanueva) by tripping all over himself.
Then we change moods to one of a dance like cotillion for beginners. Switching again to the revelation that his bestie, Valentine (Hubert Point-Du Jour), the more in the true sense a gent, calm mature and well poised, is flying the coop to Milan.
In a nutshell, Valentine and Proteus are best friends living in Verona. How do we know? They tell us so over and over again. But when Valentine goes off to Milan to better himself at the court of Duke of Milan, (Mark Pinter is stately and beautiful in this role.) Proteus’ world falls apart but for his ‘deep’ love for Julia. Shortly thereafter, Proteus’ father Antonio (Arthur Hanket) also thinks it’s time for his son to make his way in the world. He follows Valentine to Milan.
A funny thing happened in Milan. Valentine falls head over heels for Silvia (Britney Coleman), the Dukes daughter. She is in a pickle because her father wants her to marry the clown like Turio (Lowell Byers).
When Proteus first sets foot in the court (he is recommended to the Duke by Valentine) he becomes instantly smitten with Silvia, forget Julia. He now plots to get both Turio and Valentine out of the picture. Little does he know that Julia, who is now in disguise as a young page, had followed him to Milan.
One mishap follows another; Valentine is banned from court, Silvia is kidnapped by outlaws, Proteus rescues her, he declares his love for her, she rejects it, Valentine steps in, Proteus is overcome with shame after forcing himself on Silvia, Julia reveals herself, Proteus and Valentine end up with their respective brides and they all live happily ever after.
Short, simple and to the point, the story lacks depth, but the young and energetic cast makes the most of their partying and it shows through. Friends Proteus and Valentine are what some might call the attraction of opposites. Both Kantor and Point Du Jour are perfect against and for each other. Kantor, being the more physical, bursts with youthful enthusiasm against Point Du Jour’s showing us a more thoughtful and adult demeanor.
Equally effective are the women who are well suited for their respective male counterparts. Villanueva is the more mercurial, immature and pouting to Coleman’s calm and regal presence. She is an elegant looking beauty.
As in so many of Shakespeare’s comedies, the clown or clowns are most remembered and “Gents” is no exception. Oh, there is also a dog that steals the show. She's little fidgety at times (well what woman isn't?) but for the most part she just sits, behaving and staring adoringly at her master, or Proteus’ servant, Launce (Richard Ruiz). The dog’s name is Crab. She’s a black Lab/German short hair pointer and at home goes by the name of Khloe Jezbera. Both Launce and Crab are a perfect pair and when they both come on stage not a sound can be heard, it’s so mesmerizing.
Rusty Ross is Valentine’s servant, Speed. He is no stranger to comedy either. He originated the role of young Max in the Old Globe’s “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”. He’s fast and sharp and on the uptake as opposed to Launce, always sporting a sad sack face but the more thoughtful and introspective of the two.
Usually one can point out just who the clowns are by their costumes and these two not only fit the description but also fit the part. Add Silvia’s suitor the fool Turio to this duo and the clown affect is complete. His costume, one for the books, has a codpiece standing at attention that for a moment one thinks is a mistake, but no such luck!
George Bernard Shaw said: “Youth is wasted on the young”. The good news is that both Kantor and Point-DuJour have the energy to use up now for our enjoyment.
“The Two Gentlemen Of Verona”, in its current form on The Lowell Davies Festival Stage has all the right ingredients for a San Diego summer night frolic. Enjoy.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Sept. 14th
Organization: The Old Globe
Production Type: Romantic Comedy
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Start at $29.00
Venue: Lowell Davies Festival Stage