LENOX — Shakespeare & Company’s production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” sparkles with an irresistible effervescence. Of course, there’s tension as a fickle lover switches allegiances, spurns his sweetheart, and betrays his best friend, but we have no doubt that it will all turn out right in the end.
“Two Gentlemen of Verona” includes some of the Bard’s favorite plot twists, including the girl disguised as a boy, a banished hero who returns in the nick of time, and a father determined to marry his daughter off to the wrong fellow. The transitions from scene to scene in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” are not as smooth as in some of Shakespeare’s later works, such as “As You Like It” or “Much Ado About Nothing,” but rather than highlight its imperfections, director Jonathan Croy celebrates this comedy’s tone and text.
The two gentlemen of the title are the friends Proteus (a stunning Thomas Brazzle) and Valentine (the spritely Ryan Winkles), who, as the play opens, are parting. Proteus is staying at home swooning over his love, Julia (Kate Abbruzzese), while Valentine heads off to the Duke’s court. Valentine and the Duke’s daughter, Sylvia (a luminous Cloteal L. Horne), promptly fall for each other, even though Sylvia’s father has promised her to another man. Everything seems perfect until Proteus is sent to follow Valentine and he too falls for Sylvia, Julia dresses as a boy to follow her lover, and Valentine is banished and joins a band of pirates after Proteus reveals Valentine and Sylvia’s plans to run off together.
And then there’s the dog, Crab, who plays quiet straight man (um, dog) to Launce, Proteus’s goofy servant. John Hadden, as Launce, is an affable and devoted master to Crab (the remarkably unflappable Ella). Launce’s hilarious conversations around and with Crab provide a comic canine counterpoint to the themes of the play. To wit: Launce’s complaints about Crab’s lack of loyalty in the face of his years of devotion, culminating in Crab’s disgraceful conduct in front of Sylvia (use your imagination).
An infectious, giddy sense of fun and frolic is on display throughout, starting with the appearance of a flying fish in the opening dance sequence, and continuing with a truly inspired performance of the love song “Who is Sylvia?” This number is offered as a James Brown-style breakdown, complete with a rap that surely would have brought a smile to Shakespeare’s face. The production makes Shakespeare’s poetry wonderfully accessible, as the ensemble adds just the right amount of grunts, asides, and ad-libbed reactions to infuse the dialogue with a sense of almost offhanded conviction.
Adding to the sense of whimsy are Stella Schwartz’s dazzling costumes, including bustle and cap sleeves illuminated by tiny twinkly lights, a hot pink shrug with the poofy folds of a perfectly designed parachute, and a gown that shimmers in shades of pink and blue. In the intimate confines of the Tina Packer Playhouse, we can even appreciate the fabric and patterns Schwartz has selected for the men’s jackets and vests.
Every member of the Shakespeare & Company ensemble offers an easy mix of love, confusion, and comedy that make this a refreshingly guileless and enchanting romp through the madness and mayhem of young love.
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA
By William Shakespeare. Directed by Jonathan Croy. Presented by Shakespeare & Company. At the Tina Packer Playhouse, Lenox, through Sept. 4. Tickets: $24-$74, 413-637-3353, www.shakespeare.org
Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.