Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA who have taken over Boston Common are Italian all right, by way of Frankie and Deano in Vegas– not Verona; and if you remember the play–only one of them is a gentleman. Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s 18th annual free-for-all production on the common, now running through 7/28–is cool, baby, even if it’s hot outside. The production, a musical update of Shakespeare’s earliest romantic, sexually ambiguous, and superficially facile comedy, features a “Rat Pack” of 12 actors, a front and center 5-piece jazz ensemble (including a trio from the New England Conservatory), 4 scruffy dogs named Crab, a giant, kick-ass set by a Broadway and former Ringling Brothers designer named Beowulf, plus a plethora of swingin’ Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. tunes wittily woven through Shakespeare’s comedy of competing lovers.

It all begins in Verona where Valentine (Andrew Burnap) leaves his best friend Proteus (Peter Cambor) because he’s “got a lot of livin’ to do” in the crazy wild city of Milan where “luck be a lady” in the person of the Duke’s daughter Silvia (gorgeous Ellen Adair) a bombshell (a la Marilyn). Proteus, meanwhile, professes he’s got his lover Julia (spunky Jenna Augen) “under his skin”– but not so far under that he doesn’t almost immediately “change partners,” and betray his aforementioned best pal in pursuit of the slinky Silvia with a little “witchcraft.” All the action eventually ends up in Milan with Julia in disguise, showgirls on display, outlaws on the loose, besotment, betrayal, banishment, and everyone wondering “What is this thing called love?”

The whole thing’s “a kick in the head”! Highlights include Jenna Augen’s rendition of FEVER in a smokin’ soprano (I wish she’d planted herself center stage for this number), Rick “Tony Soprano” Park’s seething “mob boss” of Milan, the good, the bad and the ugly outlaws lead by lean, mean Clint Eastwood lookalike Terrence O’Malley, and the “nit” to end all “wits”– Evan Sanderson as the goofy would-be suitor Thurio. Steven Maler’s clever direction hits a snag in ACT II where a well-choreographed but sluggish chase scene begs to be fast-forwarded in order to meet the basic demands of farcical velocity. Also, Remo Airaldi and Larry Coen– usually hilarious– appear comically-challenged here as servants Speed and Launce. Loved the dog.

Perhaps it was the weather the night I saw it– rainy with a chance of rain and more rain. But hey– don’t “cry me a river”–it is overall great fun, ingeniously entertaining, and did I say– FREE? See Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA now through July 28th!