I think the people who best appreciate Two Gents are those who, like me, have been through the mature comedies of Shakespeare too many times. Beautiful, wise, charming, witty Portia/Viola/Rosalind dresses up as a boy and acts as catalyst for noble but naive Bassanio/Orsino/Orlando’s actualization as an adult male worthy of her graces.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is almost a breath of fresh air. The men are not noble – Valentine is thick as a fencepost and Proteus is a fickle, double-crossing creep, nor are they convincingly transformed at the end into something better. And the women are anything but sybilline. Portia would be disgusted by a Julia who stalks her boyfriend only to be repeatedly betrayed and who finally gives in to the first sign of remorse on his part . Or Sylvia, lovely but incorrigibly self-absorbed object of desire with a penchant for calling her suitors “servants”.

And yet, these flawed romantic comedy figures are somehow winning because of their very inadequacies. The young lovers act on impulse, can’t make up their minds about what they want to do in life, make stupid decisions, get their feelings hurt, trust the wrong people and forgive too easily, and write bad poetry. Which makes them somehow more believable than Shakespeare’s later creations and perhaps more likable in their awkward, adolescent way.

I’m lucky that my first play in the series is one of the better Marlowe Society efforts. The amateur leads, Richard Marquand and David Gibson, are spirited and forthright and, happily, youthful. Marquand especially, as Proteus, is charmingly without subtext – he changes his mind and acts the knave without any sound of wheels turning. Shakespeare well-spoken and neither overthought nor overacted. Although Richard Marquand does have a tendency to hit those iambs pretty hard.

Janette Richer is a suitably  coy Silvia, and the two servants, Launce and Speed, are delightfully enacted by Donald Beves and Roderick Cook. Beves recreated one of his stage roles with the Marlowe Society and Cook was a young veteran of musical theater (who would, some ten years later, devise and star in the revue “Oh Coward!”). Again, I delight in the imperfection of the two characters. Launce, phlegmatic and deceptively slow-witted paired with Speed, younger, faster and too clever for his own good.

Olive Gregg is the senior professional cast member, whose career extends to the legendary 1946 radio broadcast of Love’s Labours Lost where she played Maria, Paul Scofield played Berowne, and Gerald Finzi’s excellent incidental music was introduced. Gregg accordingly holds the acting honors as Julia, with a particularly affecting reading in Act IV.

The recording is marred only by the weirdly hammy performance of John Barton as the Duke. The beloved director and teacher overacts wildly, constantly inserting humms and hahhs into his speeches and those of the other actors while affecting a largely unsuccessful aristocratic swagger. Not sure what he was thinking and hoping he redeems himself later on.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, with Richard Marquand, David Gibson, Olive Gregg, Janette Richer, Donald Beves, Roderick Cook, John Barton and George Rylands.

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