For FSU/Asolo Conservatory followers, the first show of the season is always interesting; it’s a chance to see the “new” second-year MFA students in action for the first time. The current production of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona offers extra interest, because under the direction of Conservatory director Greg Leaming, it’s got an updated look and attitude that still manage to feel true to the original.
Granted, it’s a little disconcerting at first to see the young people of Verona clubbing it to contemporary music, with the girls clad in tight-fitting skirts and tops, the guys in blue jeans, and everyone doing some grinding against each other in the darkness of a bar. From the beginning, this Two Gentlemen is a very physical show (thanks in large part to Jimmy Hoskins’ charged choreography); these are kids on the move, with high energy, lusty appetites, and, in the case of friends Proteus and Valentine especially, an excess of testosterone.
Proteus (Jon-Michael Miller) breaks away from the friendship a bit when he falls in love with Julia (Megan Delay), who at first resists but soon agrees to an exchange of rings. Love isn’t cool with Valentine (Benjamin Boucvalt), but it is, as we’re often reminded in the course of the play, blind. No sooner does the resistant Valentine hit the streets of Milan than he falls for Sylvia (Katie Cunningham), the daughter of the Duke (Joshua Schubart).
There are problems, of course; the Duke prefers his daughter’s other suitor, Turio (Geoff Knox), a Eurotrash fop with an indefinable accent. More importantly, both love and friendship run the risk of being derailed when Proteus arrives in Milan and instantly wants Sylvia for himself.
Gretchen Porro, Roscoe and Jake Staley in Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Even if you’ve somehow never seen this play before, you naturally know where everything is headed. But it’s the getting there that Leaming and his cast make entertaining. A lot of the fun comes from the usual suspects, the servants: Speed (Jake Staley, fittingly equipped with a skateboard) and Lance (played in a delightful change of pace by Gretchen Porro, aided by the lovable dog Roscoe as Crab). But it also comes via surprise touches from Leaming, like Jersey accents and attire for Proteus’s father and “secretary,” an outlaw gang wearing black leather, and an unexpected rendition of the famous Who is Sylvia? serenade performed to a boombox blasting out the music of Lou Rawls’ You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.
With all of this going on, it’s acceptable that the production skates blithely (as it must) over the sudden implausibilities of the plot that make possible a happy ending. After all, with crazy kids in love, anything can happen.
Two Gentlemen of Verona continues through Nov. 21 in the Cook Theatre. For tickets, call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.