Actors of PCPA Theaterfest always play Shakespeare’s works well. They speak slowly, dramatically, and with enough contemporary attitude to make the Bard’s language flow smoothly to modern audiences.
Many of the plays have become so familiar that audiences almost know them by heart, but “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” is not in the same league as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Hamlet,” or “Romeo and Juliet.”
Categorized as one of Shakespeare’s comedies, and billed by PCPA as a “romantic comedy,” it has some amusing moments, but they are secondary to a story that is more dramatic than comic. The play may be best known for its lyric, “What Is Sylvia?”
The two gentlemen of the title are Proteus and Valentine, friends from childhood, who eventually both fall in love with Sylvia. Proteus turns out to be pretty nasty, betraying his friend and abandoning Julia, his own former true love, before things are sorted out. The comic elements, provided by the leading characters’ witty servants, are vital, adding some spice to an otherwise prosaic story.
Director Roger DeLaurier and his designers have set the play in 1920s Italy, with an elegant one-size-fits-all set and some pretty ’20s-style dresses for the women. The action all takes place on the handsome stone terrace of an Italian-style villa. A cypress hedge in the background suggests the Italian location. Dave Nofsinger is scenic designer.
Tobias Shaw plays Valentine, whose father sends him to Milan to expand his horizons. There he falls in love with Sylvia (Megan C.C. Walker), whose father, the duke, wants her to marry Thurio, a wealthy suitor whom Sylvia despises.
Meanwhile, Proteus, played by Evans Eden Jarnefeldt, is in love with Julia (Stephanie Philo), but when he travels to Milan and sees Sylvia, he is instantly smitten. He lies to the duke to have Valentine banished, but Sylvia refuses his advances. Meanwhile, Valentine joins a band of outlaws, and Julia, disguised as a boy, comes to Milan, where things are finally worked out.
The acting is all good, but the audience favorite was Leo Cortez, who plays Launce, the servant of Proteus, and Thurio, the spurned suitor. His comic talents are always a highlight at PCPA, and this time the only “actor” to upstage him is a sweet old canine, who plays his dog, Crab.
Speed, Valentine’s servant, also a comic character, is played well by Paul Culos. Kitty Balay, who is another strong PCPA presence, is excellent as Julia’s maid and confidant and as a member of a band of outlaws. She also sings “What Is Sylvia?” Peter S. Hadras is good as the duke and Proteus’ father.
“The Two Gentlemen of Verona” is believed to be one of Shakespeare’s first plays, and it’s not one of his best. It introduces some of the elements that would appear in later plays, most of them more complex and intriguing. This one is long and almost simplistic by comparison to later plays.
After Proteus betrays his friend and lusts after and tries to steal Sylvia, and poor Julia knows she’s his second choice, the playwright ties it up neatly with a happily-ever-after line: “Our day of marriage shall be yours; One feast, one house, one mutual happiness.” (Yeah, right.)