This year’s Utah Shakespearean Festival offerings are — mostly — stellar

There’s a blissful, adolescent silliness at the core of director Jesse Berger’s "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" that goes a long way in getting us to enjoy the sometimes preposterous events of Shakespeare’s early comedy.

Critics get angry at this play, and it’s easy to see why. It’s about the adventures of two lusty young men, Valentine (Justin Matthew Gordon) and Proteus (Matt Burke), who at times seem to have little respect for themselves or women.

Proteus, after declaring his love for Julia (Lindsey Wochley), goes after Valentine’s love, Sylvia (the quietly elegant Carly Germany), and when she doesn’t respond, he nearly rapes her. When he’s caught in the act by Valentine and begs forgiveness, Valentine offers Sylvia to him, without even asking if she minds. You have to sympathize with any director who dares to try to interpret this behavior for modern audiences.

While Berger doesn’t quite solve all the problems (who could?), he makes a very smart decision in encompassing all the action in the stumble-and-learn world of youth. Berger makes the play a tale about two immature, self-absorbed idealists who are going through the pangs of growing up. These young men want to do the right thing. They just don’t know what it is. By the end, you feel certain they would not repeat their actions. They have indeed metamorphosed into men of gentility.

Berger envelops all this happy nonsense in an atmosphere of skilled shtick, broad posturing and bring-down-the-house low comedy.

There are too many bits that feel tacked on, rather than organic to the action, but I suspect this will improve as the summer progresses.

Still, it’s almost always impossible to resist these actors, even though they have varying levels of experience and talent. Gordon and Burke are so earnest in their lead roles, that they allow us to forgive their characters’ missteps (well, almost).

Wochley is an attractively giddy Julia, and her scenes with her maid (Marcella Rose Sciotto) have an irreverent sisterly feel. Their friendship feels built on female secrets.

Brian Vaughn keeps turning up to steal the show as Lance, the daft servant to Proteus. His ability to milk a line and charm an audience — as if asking it for a petting — is the stuff of star performances. He even manages to hold his own with a well-trained, drop-dead cute dog that is often by his side.

I wonder: How many actors in the history of the theater have ever been able to upstage a dog?

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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