In Verona, young Proteus (Kyle Whalen) follows his friend Valentine (Brad Brockman) to Milan to serve in the duke’s court. In the process, Proteus becomes smitten with the duke’s daughter, Sylvia (Victoria Hines), and forgets his girlfriend, Julia (Suzanne Stanley).
Proteus schemes against Valentine, who also loves Sylvia, as well as Thurio (Mason Pain), the duke’s preferred suitor for his daughter. After various plot twists, Valentine eventually forgives Proteus for betraying him, and says if he loves Sylvia so much, she’s his. Valentine’s magnanimity is a bit much for modern theatergoers, but in the end, all relationships are sorted out to make everyone happy.
The best scenes are those with the Canis familiaris character, Launce’s dog, Crab, played with impassive aloofness by the four-legged Molly, who has the advantage of performing opposite the fine comic actor Jon Haque. In what is for the most part a numbing production, Haque enlivens the proceedings when he’s onstage. He even briefly plays the violin.
Robert Pittenridge’s sharp-looking costumes and the recorded music suggest the play is set in the 1920s. This gives director Kathryn McGill a chance to have some fun with Shakespeare’s song, “Who Is Sylvia?,” worked into Verona. David Fletcher-Hall has turned the tune into a jazzy little ditty played and sung by a combo and Thurio. While the song is weakly performed and won’t oust Franz Schubert’s version, it is germane to the setting and a smart idea.
Directors of Shakespearean comedies today have to find a way to relate the humor to contemporary audiences. McGill gives it a go with inconsistent results. In the scene where Launce recalls saying farewell to his family before following his master Proteus to Milan, McGill has Haque bring four audience members onstage to hold props representing the kin.
The stunt is an easy crowd-pleaser, but instead of that drawn-out bit, it would be interesting to see what Haque could do on his own.
Much of the acting is generally solid. The young actors in the lead roles are credible. The reliable Hal Kohlman plays the Duke of Milan, looking like the Godfather of Milan as portrayed by Burl Ives. In Coke-bottle eyeglasses as Proteus’ father, J. Shane McClure channels the astigmatic Mr. Magoo.