A priest and his beaming altar boy, a winged mime on roller skates, a flock of nuns, and a bunch of guys in towels, walk onto a stage. No, it's not an old joke. It's the beginning of a sprightly, visually splendid new production of Shakespeare's early comedy, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the third installment of Santa Cruz Shakespeare's 2017 summer season.
The play's not necessarily the thing in this show. One of Shakespeare's earliest works, it's a romantic comedy about a youth, Proteus (Brian Smolin, always fun to watch), all too willing to betray his best friend, Valentine (an earnest Rowan Vickers), and forsake the woman he himself loves so he can woo the woman his friend has fallen in love with.
|Adam Schroeder, Rowan Vickers: love is clueless|
There's a lot of funny comedy between these four characters and their servants, but the trick is to make this play appealing despite its dubious plotline.
This is where director Art Manke's ingenious production excels. Its many delights come from the visual wit of his staging on Annie Smart's core set of stone archways and catwalks (co-designed for this show with Chrissy Curl), in cahoots with B. Modern's absolutely fabulous, mid-century, Euro-chic costumes.
What's fun is the way Manke puts it all together. He envisions life at court as one lavish cocktail party, where the glitterati swill drinks and flourish cigarettes, while an army paparazzi snap their every move.
|Brian Smolin (foreground), Tristan Cunninghan (3rd from left) & co: symphony in black and white|
|Gallagher and friend: Felliniesque|
His counterpart, Launce, servant to Proteus, is a female here, and Patty Gallagher plays her with plenty of slapstick, sad-clown brio. In her bowler hat and cane, she recalls the poignant heroine of Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits.
Gallagher also has the poise and charm to share the stage with a mellow black dog called Crab, who steals every scene he's in.
The nuns and priest on the margins suggest the idea of faith, in contrast to the faithlessness Proteus shows to, well, just about everybody.
That everyone so easily forgives Proteus is the mark of a dramatist not yet in full control of his art, but Manke, Modern, and company are in full control of this delicious production.
(Read more in this week's Good Times)