Two Shakes

Two Gentlemen of Verona

Joe Larrea is in danger of being upstaged by his canine co-star in <span style=Two Gentlemen of Verona.">

Joe Larrea is in danger of being upstaged by his canine co-star in Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Rated 4.0

The Sacramento Shakespeare Festival’s Two Gentlemen of Verona is the stage equivalent of a summer flick. Set in the Roaring ’20s, this comedic romp is the perfect light dessert for the traditional pre-play picnic in William Land Park—sweet, funny and easy to digest.

Don’t examine Two Gentlemen too closely; it’s not one of Shakespeare’s more sophisticated attempts. Written early in his career, the plots and characters aren’t fully developed. Still, you’ll see shades of the Bard’s eventual trademarks: witty banter, star-crossed lovers, crisscrossed messages, disguises, deceptions and an “all’s well that ends well” ending.

Director Luther Hanson places the action in the 1920s, with a fashion show of dapper suits, fedoras, flapper dresses and bobbed hair, as well as jazz-music interludes. Taking advantage of the play’s give-and-take humor, many characters become comedic duos, trios and sidekicks engaging in fast-paced vaudevillian comedy shticks.

Two Gentlemen starts out as a buddy story. Valentine (Michael Lane) and Proteus (Kevin Chu) are two young dudes with one thing on their minds: maidens. These two players call each other out with trash talking disguised as romantic musing. Valentine has set his sights on the town hottie, Sylvia (Sara Perry), while Proteus pursues wise and witty Julia (Laura Kaya). When Proteus decides Sylvia is more to his liking, he backstabs his best buddy by pursuing Sylvia in the guise of Valentine’s messenger. Madcap mayhem ensues.

The convoluted plot stretches believability, but the cast makes the confusion accessible and entertaining. All four leads breathe life into the sometimes-burdensome dialogue. Chu is the clear standout with his funny phrasing and comical expressions, followed closely by an engaging Kaya.

Nonetheless, it’s the sidekicks who really make this loopy lovers’ tale an appealing production. Michael Murphy is very funny as comedic foil Speed. Costumed as a vaudeville jokester in baggy pants and bowtie, Murphy trades in quick barbs and physical buffoonery. And though Joe Larrea’s character is an oddity in the play, his performance makes us glad Shakespeare added the strange Launce to the mix. Larrea’s sad-sack musing with his dog (played with deadpan expressions by a scene-stealing mutt) is sweet and touching.

The multilevel Tuscan-style set at the William A. Carroll Amphitheatre is handsome and inviting—though the urge to use every door, window, balcony and platform does not always result in the best settings for some of the scenes.