By Jim Rutter
For THE INQUIRER
Friendship over love. Many boys spout this mantra, few endorse it in action. Shakespeare threaded this truth through the plot of Two Gentlemen of Verona, a young man’s play about impulsive young men. Director Samantha Bellomo and her sprightly cast at Delaware Shakespeare Festival prove their understanding in a Jazz Age production that excites in its excess of untempered passion balanced only by the laughter of youthful love’s folly.
In Two Gentlemen, “inseparable” best friends Valentine (Brandon Pierce) and Proteus (Adam Darrow) part ways when Valentine takes an apprenticeship in Milan. Proteus stays behind, sublimating his lost friendship in newfound love for Julia (an excellent, subtle performance by Clare Mahoney).
When Proteus’ dad sends him off to Milan, he finds Valentine embroiled in his own love affair with Silvia (Emilie Kraus), and in his jealousy, Proteus vows to have Silvia for himself, at any cost.
Guess where this is going.
Del Shakes’ production captivates on many levels. Bellomo kicks it off with energetic Charleston-inspired choreography that bookends each act. Amanda Wolff bedecks the cast in slick suits and gorgeous gold flapper dresses. A young cast includes some of Philadelphia’s best (reluctantly) non-Equity talent, led in comedy by Max Cove (as the servant Speed) and in fiery temper by Pierce.
Krause’s love interest bubbles like a gin fizz that froths in witty retorts, and Darrow lives up to his character’s shape-shifting name, morphing from amiable paramour to a frightening depiction of deluded rationalization. Griffin Stanton-Ameisen’s (as Launce) deft balance of humor and woe shows that as in many of Shakespeare’s plays, only the clown possesses true self-honesty.
The text contains the gene pool of all Shakespeare’s later comedies: mistaken identity, misdirected affection, sacrifice and redemption, not to mention the dog Crab. Usual summertime Shakespeare simmers in the overdone, over-dramatized emotions of star-crossed Romeo and Juliet. Two Gentlemen is the reality that a young Shakespeare still understood, and at DSF, it’s worth the trek to watch it.
Two Gentlemen of Verona. Presented by Delaware Shakespeare Festival at Rockwood Park, 4561 Washington St Extension, Wilmington, DE. Tickets: $10 to $15. Information: 302-415-3373 or delshakes.org