“The Two Gentlemen of Verona” is considered one of Shakespeare’s lesser comedies, as none of its characters, situations or ideas is particularly noteworthy when compared to the Bard’s greater works.
It is a circumstance fraught with irony, then, that the current production of the play is the best Shakespeare experience offered at this year’s Utah Shakespearean Festival. “Julius Caesar” and “The Tempest” — both more highly regarded as scripts — are disappointing, while the usually-forgettable “Two Gentlemen” comes off an entertaining frolic with far more for the average audience member to sink his teeth into.
The fast-paced show is directed by Paul Barnes with an eye for comedy that is physical but not slapstick. Denise Montgomery very nearly rules the show as Julia, the girl whom mercurial Proteus (Christopher Marshall) loves and then spurns when he meets someone else. With a glance or a gesture, Montgomery conveys a great deal of information about Julia, endearing her to the audience as a strong, sympathetic character.
The two gentlemen themselves, Proteus and Valentine (Danforth Comins), make a light-hearted pair. The action of the play depends on Proteus becoming an absolute heel to his best friend in the interest of pursuing a woman, and that friendship is established in the first scene with some vigorous wrestling and fraternal glad-handing. When all is resolved in the end, the strength of their relationship is pleasant and sweet again, despite their having spent most of the play at odds.
The lovely Carrie Baker plays Silvia, the daughter of the duke of Milan who is the object of Valentine’s affection. Her other suitor is pompous Thurio, played to sniveling perfection by Cameron McNary.
The servants do as much here as the leads. Libby George plays Julia’s maid Lucetta with all the sparkling wit we’ve come to expect from that charming actress. And as the servants Speed and Launce, Kern McFadden and Michael Fitzpatrick are long-suffering and focused, earning laughs easily (though Fitzpatrick is almost upstaged by an adorable shaggy dog).
Shakespeare wrote in a strange little subplot in which Valentine, banished from Milan, becomes leader of a band of thieves in the forest. That, coupled with the general inconsequential nature of the proceedings, prevents this from being the sort of show that will change your life or remain in your memory forever. But as a merry diversion, it’s hard to beat.
All the men in this show wore very tight tights, some of them flesh-colored. It was disturbing, particularly in scenes where they are wrestling with each other.