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"Two Gentlemen of Verona" takes Shakespeare to the sock hop.

click to enlarge Who put the Bard in the "Rama Lama Ding Dong"? Austin Seay and Jonathan Conyers co-star in Richmond Shakespeare's ambitious but flawed retelling of "Two Gentlemen of Verona." - ERIC DOBBS
  • Eric Dobbs
  • Who put the Bard in the "Rama Lama Ding Dong"? Austin Seay and Jonathan Conyers co-star in Richmond Shakespeare's ambitious but flawed retelling of "Two Gentlemen of Verona."

When two friends vie for the same woman, things get interesting in the city of Milan. A story of friendship and betrayal, "Two Gentlemen of Verona" highlights the foolishness that can accompany love. But Richmond Shakespeare's production of the comedy, set in the 1950s, is plagued with problems.

Several of the actors, including Jennifer Frank as Lucetta, rely on arm-waving and other clichéd gestures instead of interpreting their lines. Thomas L. Cunningham's Proteus never seems conflicted about having his lifelong friend Valentine banished so he can move in on his buddy's girl.

Highlights include Laura Rikard's Silvia, who manages to be both sincere and amusing while rebuffing Proteus' advances. Jonathan Conyers' Launce understands every phrase and joke and, accompanied by his pooch, Crab, provides the best scenes in the show. Laurel Maughan is believable as Julia, the slighted lover of Proteus.

Setting the show in the 1950s just doesn't translate. Transplanting Shakespeare into another place and time can lead to some interesting results (setting "Romeo and Juliet" during the Civil War, for example). But if the language is to stay the same, instead of being adapted (as it is in "West Side Story"), the audience relies on cues from the set, costumes and stage items to get the director's message. In "Two Gentlemen," a minimal set and odd props (such as Launce's gigantic plungerlike thing in act two) leave the purpose of the time shift open to conjecture. The servants in the show are portrayed as car mechanics. Does Proteus own an auto repair shop?

Aside from the sock hop and the two-piece band performing at stage right, the only other reference to the '50s is a group of highwaymen dressed as a biker gang, one of whom runs around like a dancing pirate.

Molly Hood's direction stumbles, and the staging could use a tune-up as well. In the crucial scene in which Julia realizes that Proteus is in love with another, the audience can't see her because she's so far offstage.

From the opening dance sequence set under a "Verona University" banner to the show's hand-jiving conclusion, "Two Gentlemen" never quite makes the scene, Daddy-O. S

Richmond Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona" runs through July 31 at Agecroft Hall, 4305 Sulgrave Road. Tickets are $13-$27. For information, call 353-4241 or visit richmondshakespeare.com.

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