by Kathy Peterson
Repertory performances of the Great River Shakespeare Festival’s three plays for this season are well underway. This year’s lighter fare by the Bard is The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a comedy about complications when young love and loyal friendship collide. Director Paul Mason Barnes’ love of the text and stories of Shakespeare shines out in this simple tale of four young people whose passions tempt them into risky decisions. Something most parents can relate to, yes? Verona natives Proteus and Valentine are the very model of Renaissance male friends, closer than brothers. Proteus loves Julia and is content to stay in Verona to be near her; Valentine wishes to explore the world beyond home and goes to the Duke’s court in Milan. There he falls in love with the Duke’s daughter Sylvia, who returns his affections. All should be smooth sailing for these young hearts. Of course, there is the obligatory impediment of parental disapproval, but what is that to passion’s pull?
The train of love goes off the track when Proteus, after pledging his heart to Julia with an exchange of rings, joins Valentine in the Milan court. There he falls hard for the lady Sylvia. The bond of friendship between the two gentlemen is mightily tested, as is Julia’s love for her Proteus. Along for the ride are servants who are blessed with Shakespeare’s masterful gift of cockeyed humor, a clueless, no-chance-in-heck suitor pursuing Sylvia, outlaws in the forest, and a dog. Of course, all ends happily, but at what cost? Barnes’ handling of Shakespeare’s comedies always has an underlying core of truth and consequences. We are well aware that the characters have each gone on a life journey that has fundamentally changed them.
The younger cast members take center stage in this story. Evan Fuller and Ryan Fonville as the two gents are not only charming and natural, but permeate the scenes they share with real emotion. Many of their moments are quite touching. Fuller plays the deceitful Proteus with flare and complexity, while Fonville is extremely engaging as the uncomplicated and dependable Valentine. The lovely lady Sylvia is played with grace and poise by Kim McBreen, and Stephanie Lambourn personifies the sweet, loyal, and slightly ditzy Julia. As is common in Shakespeare’s comedies, Julia disguises herself as a boy and makes for Milan to see what her Proteus is up to; she is broken-hearted when she witnesses his duplicity. The two gentlemen must have servants, of course, and in these roles that almost seem written for them, we have Doug Scholz-Carlson and Jonathan Gillard Daly. Scholz-Carlson’s frenetic and zany Speed (well named) beautifully plays off of Daly’s folksy, unhurried Launce. When these two are on stage their talents as comic pros really shine. This duo of servants is almost a trio, since Launce’s dog Crab adds mightily to the fun. Crab is played by Daly’s real-life family dog Winnie, who is just downright adorable and steals the scenes; Daly is truly having a ball being upstaged by his own pet. Other wonderful comic turns are performed by Andrew Carlson as Sir Thurio, the spurned suitor of Sylvia, Tarah Flanagan as Julia’s maid Lucetta, and Michael Fitzpatrick as the imperious Duke, who is also just a father trying to figure out a daughter! The outlaws in the forest are also extremely comical, tough one minute and befuddled the next.
A beautifully spare and elegant set, designed by Eric Stone, is perfect for the story, and the costumes by Meg Weedon are 1950’s chic—a style that looks especially fab on the women. Barnes likes music in his plays and has collaborated with the brilliant Jack Forbes Wilson to bring a perfect mixture of 1950’s pop, Italian crooner tunes, and some lovely original music to the production. It’s always a thrill to hear the terrific singing voices of these GRSF company members: the male cast members each do a quick O Sole Mio turn and wow, those guys can sing.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona plays in repertory with King Lear and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) through August 5. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the website: www.grsf.org or call 507-474-7900.