Matters of the heart are never simple, but when your best friend goes after your girlfriend and in the process gets you banished from your city, that will put a strain on a friendship.
Such is the situation that arises in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the opening production of the new season at Idaho Shakespeare Festival. The comedy is full of the Bard's favorite devices: forbidden love, rejected lovers, stern parents, comedic servants and a touch of cross-dressing. But the production offers a fresh interpretation of the classic, creating a sort of Bohemian-coffeehouse take on the tale.
From the costuming by Star Moxley that combines modern and traditional pieces to the use of pop music performed by a live band, the production manages to feel both extraordinarily contemporary and timelessly classic. The singing voices of Sara Bruner and Jodi Dominick help transform the play into a musical of sorts, each interlude serving both as a transition and a guidepost.
Neil Brookshire and Dakotah Brown play the lead roles of Valentine and Proteus respectively, two best friends who are separated when Valentine goes off to see the world while Proteus stays put in order to win the heart of his beloved Julia (Lee Stark). But when Proteus is forced to follow Valentine, things get messy.
Valentine has fallen in love with Silvia (Nika Ericson), whose father intends to marry her off to a man she hates. The would-be lovers' plot to run away is thwarted after the newly arrived Proteus falls in love with Silvia and betrays Valentine. In the meantime, Julia sets her sights on Proteus and dresses like a young male page so that she can follow him.
ISF veterans David Anthony Smith and M.A. Taylor provide the bulk of the play's comic relief. Smith in particular faces a daunting duty: acting opposite an animal. The animal in question is a French bulldog (Scooter Moose de Chumber) who may well be the most laid-back pup to ever grace a stage. Including an adorable animal is a guarantee that any human actor will be upstaged, yet Smith makes the most of it, creating some of the most memorable moments of the production.
The set design is stunning, yet simple and functional. Clean lines of a scaffolding tower connected by two movable staircases and a rotating backdrop of bright orange, red and blue work perfectly to create the foundation of the production, while the actors' skills lead the audience's imagination to fill in the blanks.
The overall effect is a production that audiences will be sure to embrace, as well as serve as an amuse bouche for the rest of the season.