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Well-Styled 'Two Gentlemen' Also Benefits From Some Outside Help

June 17, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ORANGE — "Two Gentlemen of Verona" is not one of William Shakespeare's better efforts. But it is an early play, and it helped him hone his craft. And, as director Thomas Bradac explains to the audience at the beginning, there are teasing hints of several better plays that came later.

In any case, "Two Gentlemen" isn't an easy play to pull off. In this co-production between Bradac's Shakespeare Orange County and Chapman University, the first SOC production of its fifth summer season, Bradac lends just the aura and style to make the play work like the simple valentine (pun intended) that it is.

With a cast of Chapman grad students and undergrads, Bradac transforms "Two Gentlemen" into a charming piece of commedia dell'arte with great dollops of vaudeville shtick, a couple of acceptable anachronisms (one bit of verse is delivered rap-style) and no more depth than a dish of gelato. It is SOC's first outdoor production, and a more pleasant way to spend a summer evening would be hard to find.

Valentine (there it is) and Proteus are the two best friends in Verona, but Valentine is soon off to the court of the Duke of Milan, leaving Proteus to his rapture with the lovely Julia. In Milan, Valentine becomes enraptured with the Duke's daughter Silvia. Then Proteus' father Antonio decides Proteus should join his friend, and expand his horizons, which Proteus does by forgetting Julia and falling for Silvia. A bit of froth is what it is.

Most of the company gets the gag and slips easily into the commedia style, but some ignore it, including Elizabeth Maher's Silvia, who poses attractively but generally plays everything too straight. Others put on the style but look a little uncomfortable wearing it, such as Peter Westenhofer's Launce, servant to Proteus, who understands the intent but forces it a bit.

Matthew McCray as Valentine and Randy Anderson as Proteus are excellent--attractive, buoyant and attuned to the slight dumbness with which Shakespeare has imbued their characters. Samantha Klein's sense of comedy takes the usually unrewarding role of Julia's waiting-woman, Lucetta, and makes it a small gem. Also prominent is Christian Denton as both servant Panthino and Eglamour, the noble who helps Silvia escape from a horrid engagement to the foppish Thurio.

Thurio is given a delightfully campy turn by Rob Harrison, but Harrison barely goes beyond reading his lines when he doubles as Antonio, Proteus' father.

Bonnie Walker is properly imperious as Silvia's Duchess mother. Alyssa Bradac is on key in the small role of the Duchess' servant, and Ben Branson and Eric Peterson, along with Klein, make the most of the Keystone Cops outlaws, who are about as menacing as the Pirates of Penzance. Launce's dog Crab is played by Megan, who stares at the audience a lot but seems to bark on cue.

The spirit of the evening is best revealed in the performances of Anne Marie Nest as a kinetic, wise and totally believable Julia (even in her wildest moments) and Sean Cox, simply hilarious as Valentine's outrageous page Speed. Nest and Cox know where to find humor in the most unexpected moments, and their control and sense of detail, which makes their comedy honest and real, is exceptional.

* "Two Gentlemen of Verona," Schweitzer Mall Stage, Chapman University, 301 E. Palm Ave., Orange. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Ends June 30. $18. (714) 744-7016.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Matthew McCray: Valentine

Randy Anderson: Proteus

Anne Marie Nest: Julia

Samantha Klein: Lucetta/Outlaw

Bonnie Walker: Duchess

Rob Harrison: Antonio/Thurio

Christian Denton: Panthino/Eglamour

Sean Cox: Speed/Host

Peter Westenhofer: Launce

Elizabeth Maher: Silvia

Alyssa Bradac: Ursula

Ben Branson: Outlaw

Eric Peterson: Outlaw

Megan: Crab

A Shakespeare Orange County production, in association with Chapman University, of a comedy by William Shakespeare, directed by Thomas Bradac. Scenic/sound design: Craig Brown. Costume design: Liz Hubner. Lighting design: Ron Coffman. Stage manager: Julia Stormont.

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