O the angry heavens opened, spilling their fiery vengeance upon Bard on Bower’s comedy Two Gentlemen of Verona on Thursday night.
But despite distracting (and disconcerting) flashes of lightning, thunder claps and rain that poured steadily over Red Deer’s Bower Ponds, the show went off charmingly on the outdoor stage — which is high praise indeed for this Prime Stock Theatre production.
Two Gentlemen, running in repertoire with Antony and Cleopatra, is considered Shakespeare’s earliest and not necessarily strongest play. But it contains one of the Bard’s easiest-to-follow scripts, which was delivered with all the intended — wink! wink! — double entendres, and 16th-century word games by an excellent cast.
As directed by Eric Pettifor, this production gave the audience (though small and huddled under tents on opening night) the full Elizabethan theatrical experience.
That is to say, jaunty music was performed live on stage by actor/musicians, who also sang a period song (Who is Silvia?), and served up over-the-top clowning in every scene involving either a blundering servant or brash outlaw.
There were lots of madcap exchanges with the quick-witted contrarian Speed (Brock Beale), jester-like Launce (John Warkentin) and dancing dog Crab, portrayed by Alecia Pagnotta (who also played the saucy, scene-stealing servant Lucetta).
Two Gentlemen of Verona is full of Shakespeare’s usual contrivances. Heroine Julia (Lauren Marshall) dresses as a boy to try to woo back her feckless man, Proteus (Mihai Alex Dan).
There are two guys — Proteus and his friend, Valentine (Zach Strom) — who fall instantly in love with the same woman — the beauteous Silvia (Pagnotta, in yet a third role).
There are themes of friendship and betrayal, and the foolish behaviour of people who act from the heart, not the head. Even in his first play, Shakespeare shows shrewd insight into the human condition through such lines as: Speed: “If you love her, then you cannot see her.” Valentine: “Why?” Speed: “Because love is blind.”
Although the Bower Ponds stage isn’t much like the Globe Theatre, Pettifor does a great job of bringing about the look and feel of broad stage comedy, circa 1580. This well-paced production has a uniformly strong cast that also includes Brendan Kearney (Antonio/Thurio), Trysten Luck (Panthino/Elgamour), Tara Rorke (Host/Outlaw) and Stefan Theriault (musician/outlaw).
So waiteth not! but get thee hence to Bower Ponds for a most pleasing and winsome experience.
(Bring a lawn chair, blankets and bug spray. Admission is by donation. Two Gentlemen of Verona runs at 7 p.m. on July 21, 22, 26, 28 and 29, and at 1 p.m. on July 23 and 30. Antony and Cleopatra runs on July 23 and 27 at 7 p.m., and July 22 and 29 at 1 p.m.)