Even William Shakespeare had to start somewhere. It’s generally believed that Two Gentlemen of Verona was his first script (it is, at least, the earliest one that has come down to us). But even the Bard’s byline doesn’t guarantee that that this early play is a comic gem. It has a few humorous moments, which do provide some respite in Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s current production, but they are few and far between in a silly tale that offers little motivation for its central characters and implausible solutions to their largely mean-spirited actions.
Friends Valentine (Darnell Benjamin) and Proteus (Cary Davenport) compete to outwit one another and others as they vie for the love of Silvia (Jolin Polasek). Valentine tries to steal her away from her bombastic father (Jim Hopkins) and her admittedly ridiculous suitor Turio (John Scheller).
Proteus sets his own sights on her, ignoring his prior devotion to Julia (Sara Clark) until, disguised as a boy, she hunts him down at the moment he’s about to force himself on Silvia. Why either woman would yearn for such men is a mystery.
CSC’s production sets this shallow tale in the equally shallow clubbing world of the 1970s. That’s the cue for Heidi Schiller’s costumes, a “hip” set by Andrew Hungerford (which amusingly includes a steaming hot tub) and throbbing Disco tunes in Chris Guthrie’s sound track. Tarting up Two Gentlemen in this manner isn’t inappropriate, but it doesn’t add to the play’s thin plot.
The best moments are provided by Jeremy Dubin as Lance, Valentine’s dimwitted servant, who spends much of his time in one-sided conversations with his dog Crab. The latter (a tiny ball of fur whose real name is Mignon) has the good sense to remain silent and simply look adorable. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that performance.
TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues through May 29. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.