Bard on the Beach

Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona

Venue: Douglas Campbell Studio Stage, Vanier Park

Dates:19 July-2 September 2001

Reviewer: Jane Penistan

This seldom performed comedy is said to be Shakespeare's first. As an early work encompassing much of the stuff of romance and courtly love, the play presents several problems. These are admirably resolved by Dean Paul Gibson and his multi-talented cast in this delightful presentation in the four-sided auditorium of the Douglas Campbell Studio Stage.

Ballad singing troubadours are an overture for an entertainment of romantic fantasy. The sparse but mobile stage furniture is simple but charmingly Italianate and well used by the director and cast. Mara Gottler's eighteenth-century costumes are gorgeously opulent in colour and made of watered and corded silk, taffeta,lavish embroidery and trimmings, and stylish shoes and wigs. This is truly an elegant wardrobe display in which the actors move comfortably as if to the manner born.

The plot concerns two Veronese gentlemen who have been friends from childhood. Valentine is a faithful lover and steadfast friend, while Proteus is devious, selfish, and inconstant. Both the beloved girls are young women of character and determination. When Valentine is sent to the Duke of Milan's court by his father to further his education, he falls in love with the duke's daughter, Sylvia. She reciprocates his affection and defies her father's wish for her to be betrothed to a wealthy ineffectual nobleman, Thurio, whom she despises. After declaring his enduring love for the Veronese Julia, and exchanging rings with her as earnest of their unending affection, Proteus is also dispatched to Milan. He instantly falls in love with Sylvia, who will have none of him and reprimands him for abandoning the faithful Julia.

Valentine plans to elope with Sylvia, but perfidious Proteus informs the Duke of this, and Valentine is banished and Sylvia placed under restraint until she consents to betroth Thurio. Proteus now discredits Thurio with the Sylvia's father and continues to ingratiate himself with her and her father. Sylvia enlists the help of a widower, Sir Eglamour, to help her escape Verona. In the meantime, Valentine becomes the leader of a band of outlaws, and Julia, impatient for her Proteus, disguises herself as a boy and travels to Milan where she becomes Proteus's page.

In her flight Sylvia is apprehend by the outlaws and in pursuit of the runaways, the Duke of Milan, Proteus, and Julia are also waylaid. All is now revealed. Proteus' infidelity and treachery is discovered, and Valentine's courage and faithfulness are rewarded with the Duke's pardon and his consent for marriage to Sylvia. Thurio is proved to be weak and unworthy, while Proteus is shamed for his perfidy, though forgiven by the patient and loving Julia. All ends happily with all sins forgiven, including those of the outlaws, and true love is requited.

David Marr makes an imposing and authoritative Duke of Milan. This versatile actor also plays Lance, Valentine's servant, who has witty exchanges with Proteus' servant, Speed (Josh Epstein). Lance also possesses a dog, Crab(who almost steals the scenes with Lance) for whom he endures punishment, and whom he addresses in well chosen words. Lance is a philosophical and logical soul who enjoys soliloquy, which Marr performs with humour and enjoyment. As if this were not enough, Marr is also an accomplished guitarist and singer, talents he displays in the tavern scene in which the well-known song "Who is Sylvia?" is performed.

As Julia, Jennifer Lines is spirited and charming. She manages to avoid the pitfall of mawkishness to which this role is prone. Sylvia (Tifffany Lyndall-Knight) is regal, as befits the Duke's daughter. She is a young woman with a mind of her own, very brave, warm, and loving and with a strong sense of right and wrong. Patrick McMann plays Valentine engagingly, and no wonder Sylvia falls for him! As Proteus, Jeremy Tow lacks conviction as a scheming inconstant friend and lover. His superficial charm should overlay a more evil mind.

This company plays well to each other and together. Their diction and intentions are clear. This intelligently and beautifully choreographed production of a rarely performed play is well worth seeing.

Two Gentlemen of Verona runs from 19 July to 2 September on Tuesday through Friday at 20.00, Saturday at 16.00 and 20.30 except Saturday, 28 July and 4 August when performances are at 18.00), and Sunday at 19.00. Tickets on regular evenings are $23; matinees at $20 from The Bard on the Beach box office: 604.738.0559.

© 2001, Jane Penistan

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