Two Gentlemen of Verona

Local Arts Reviews

Two Gentlemen of Verona: Not Easy Bein' Green

Auditorium on Waller Creek, through July 19

Running Time: 2 hrs, 25 min

Valentine is not in love. This guy says he has no use for all that hearts-and-flowers stuff. He won't be caught dead mooning over some female. Or he will. Once a young beauty named Silvia crosses his path, he's chasing after her with stars for peepers.

His friend Proteus, who is in love, only has eyes for Julia. Adores this lass, only this lass, and will do till the end of time. Or not. One glimpse at his pal Val's gal, and that steadfast affection for Julia is, as those kids today say, so last week.

Julia, when she was still the apple of Proteus' eye, turned up her nose at his letters of love. Looked away, didn't want to see them. Uh, wait, yes, she did. No, she didn't. Yes, she did.

Ah, to be young and indecisive -- or, more accurately, utterly decisive and firmly committed to a position but able to reverse yourself completely every 30 seconds. Such cocksureness mixed with flip-floppery ensures rampant contradictions and complications among young folk and their relationships, and while that has infuriated parents since the dawn of time, it's the stuff that romantic comedies are made on.

So it is here. Shakespeare's hormone-charged youths wind up vying for the attention of the same young woman, with one of them so smitten that he's willing to sacrifice the friendship with his best bud and abandon his former flame, who then comes looking for him disguised as a guy. Its comic tangle of plots and hearts is of the kind that amused 400 years ago and is still being mined for entertainment by Hollywood today. Were it not for the singularly low-concept title that the Bard slapped on the story, Two Gentlemen of Verona would not be out of place on a megaplex marquee alongside such fare as How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, 10 Things I Hate About You, and 40 Days and 40 Nights.

That contemporary feel is evident in the current revival from Different Stages. Some of that is due simply to the sundresses and T-shirts, designer shades and suits, in which the cast is decked out. But more of it comes from the actors themselves. When Amie Elyn's Julia petulantly crosses her arms and refuses to look at a love note from Proteus, she might be a latter-day Everyteen obstinately holing up in her bedroom in Anytown, USA. When Alex Ferrari's Proteus turns to the audience, all giddy and moonstruck after his first encounter with Silvia, his boyish enthusiasm echoes that on today's high school and college campuses all across the land. Likewise for Jake Coe's Valentine energetically razzing his friend about his infatuation; Coe buzzes with the revved-up physicality of the modern jock. And Parker Williams' Silvia, whose elegance and charisma make it abundantly clear what turns both Valentine's and Proteus' heads in her direction, sets the sneaky Proteus straight with the flair of a woman who knows who she is and what she wants; all that's missing is her telling him to speak to the hand. Director Norman Blumensaadt doesn't quite turn this into Two Dudes From Verona Beach -- his pacing is a little too stately, the dress and setting a little too formal -- but his approach does point up how little young love has changed since Elizabethan times.

The production features more than this foursome: a suitably stern Steven Fay as Silvia's corporate-minded dad, his eye fixed eaglelike on the bottom line; Jim Arnold as the servant Speed, affably rattling off witticisms from under a straw hat; a fairly genial gang of bikers in black leather jackets; Robert Rudie, as the rather dim servant Launce, his knitted brow giving him the appearance of peering at us through a fog; and the bulldog Briggs, attacking the role of Launce's dog Crab with slobbery fervor. But most of it has all the substance of a breeze, coming and going pleasantly but lightly. What grounds the show are those young lovers, making such ardent promises only to break them, taking such solemn stands only to back off them. The monochrome set by Paul Davis, a pleasing Mediterranean terrace backed by a painted seascape on panels, seems to reflect their freshness and inexperience: It's all green. There is in that a reminder of spring and in these youths we see the promise of that season, of new life, new love, growth and maturation, and cycles of renewal.

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Two Gentlemen of Verona, William Shakespeare, Different Stages, Norman Blumensaadt, Amie Elyn, Alex Ferrari, Jake Coe, Steven Fay, Jim Arnold, Robert Rudie, Briggs, Paul Davis

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