Anyone who likes to see the scoundrel get his comeuppance in the end should be warned: In Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, it’s not going to happen.
The play has two protagonists: There’s the stalwart if generally bland Valentine (Zachary Fine), speaker of one of the Bard’s most gorgeous passages (“What light is light, if Silvia be not seen?/What joy is joy, if Silvia be not by?”). And then there’s that aforementioned scoundrel, Proteus (Noah Brody). The two are fast friends who later become rivals when Proteus decides his friend’s love, Silvia, must be superior to his own beloved Julia, essentially because his friend has her. He schemes to keep them apart and take Silvia for his own, to the despondency of Julia—and the complete disinterest of Silvia, who only has eyes for Valentine. Proteus’s behavior becomes increasingly inexcusable (by the end, he’s willing to take Silvia against her will), but ends up delivering him about ten seconds of actual consequences. But after all, this is a comedy, so—spoiler alert—it all works out in the end.
Get past the fact that Proteus is, generally, the worst, and Two Gents is a frothy confection of a play that goes down easily. It’s even more of a joy in the hands of New York company Fiasco Theater directors Brody and Ben Steinfeld, who have delivered a charming, breezy—and speedy—production at Folger. The play, with a spare set and several actors in multiple roles, moves at a smooth clip, occasionally interrupted with bursts of song.
Most of Two Gents’ performances are exaggerated for comedic effect—Brody is a particularly hammy, if mischievous, Proteus, and Jessie Austrian milks Julia’s early suitor-related dilemmas for big laughs. Emily Young is the show’s most subtle performer, handily embodying two roles: Julia’s no-nonsense maid, Lucetta, and the worshiped Silvia, who is firmly steadfast in her rejection of both the devious Proteus and the loyal but hapless Thurio (Paul L. Coffey), her father’s choice for her husband.
The play’s most obvious source of comic relief is the goofy servant Lance (Andy Grotelueschen) and his trusty dog (Fine again). Their scenes together have the show’s most overt gags, but Grotelueschen also does a fine job playing off his fellow servant, Speed (Coffey). One terrific segment has Speed listing Lance’s love’s increasingly alarming faults, only to have him dismiss them out of hand. After all, she “brews good ale” and has a ton of money. Go into this Two Gents for the laughs, rather than any particular sense of moral justice, and this production definitely delivers.
Fiasco Theater’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona is at Folger Theatre through May 25. Running time is about two hours, with one intermission. Tickets ($39 to $72) are available through the Folger’s website.