THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA
at the Guthrie Theater through March 29
Caught rather late in its very long run, Two Gentlemen comes across as a well-oiled machine entirely successful on its apparent mission: breathing new life into one of Shakespeare's lesser plays by embracing its anachronisms. Our two titular dudes, Valentine (Sam Bardwell) and Proteus (Jonas Goslow), come across with ample doses of appropriate naiveté. Here they're depicted as fresh out of school, with romance and the world ahead of them. The trick is that director Joe Dowling has transported the action into the American 1950s, with a pair of cameras projecting the drama in big, black-and-white screens overhead in an approximation of a TV play. It works remarkably well, and the eye wanders pleasantly between the onstage action and the simulation above. What follows is recognizably Shakespearean, though in a cruder and less revelatory form than we expect from the better work of our language's most canonical dramatist. Proteus finds romance back home in the plucky Julia (Sun Mee Chomet, a very appealing puppy-lovestruck, slumber-partying teen), then joins his pal in Milan and promptly falls for the dishy Silvia (Valeri Mudek), who has eyes only for Valentine. Goslow's Proteus is remorseful, but not overly so, as he attempts to destroy his friend and steal his love. Randy Reyes as Speed and Jim Lichtscheidl as Lance, a pair of servants to the boys, routinely appear and derail events with shtick that verges on standup comedy with touches of improv; far from interrupting the flow of events, these interludes underscore the impression that we're not to take any of this too seriously. We have our schemes and scams, our machinations and betrayals (and Julia dressing up as a boy to spy on her fickle lover), and a cast confident enough to find the beauty in the play's language without trying to wrest more depth than is really there. Mostly this simply feels like a very good show, Shakespeare living and breathing, the cast discovering small moments and locating great entertainment in what could be a musty thing. Dowling the showman is at his loose, invigorated best.