MONMOUTH — With delightful tongue-in-cheek twists, Theater at Monmouth is serving up a wonderfully madcap version of Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”

It is the 1950s at Tony’s Soda Shop and ice cream parlor in Verona, Maine, where friends Proteus and Valentine are caught up in the excitement of young love. Valentine is about to travel to Milan, Italy. Proteus is becoming entangled in the perplexities of women, particularly the lovely Julia.

“Two Gents” is a fast-paced comedy in which the characters, young and old, stumble through all kinds of foolishness in pursuit of love. From the sock hop atmosphere of the soda shop to the palace of the Duke of Milan, this production of “Two Gents” combines Shakespeare’s lines with suggestions of scenes and situations that bring to mind more modern entertainment.

The audience will catch many sight and sound reminders of Doris Day movies with her many bemused suiters, or flashes of TV characters from shows like “Laverne and Shirley” and “Happy Days.” 

The incidental music from the 1950s is well chosen for that purpose.

“Two Gents” explores such themes as falling in love with your best friend’s girl, sneaking out a window from your father’s house to meet your true love, getting someone else to deliver your love notes and putting on a disguise to investigate what your boyfriend’s up to, only to find he’s up to no good.

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In her first season at TAM, Catherine Weidner’s direction combines solid scholarship in the presentation of the Bard’s text with lots of hilarity in the show’s imaginative setting.

“Growing up hasn’t changed much in 400 years,” Weidner says in her director’s notes. Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona” is still relevant and, more importantly, still funny after all these years.”

Several performances stand out in this production. One of them is the nonspeaking role (for the most part) of Crab, performed by Minnie. She’s a lively little dog belonging to Launce, servant of Proteus.

Launce is played by TAM nine-season veteran Dustin Tucker. It’s a major challenge for any actor to share the stage with a cute dog, but Tucker more than holds his own with his rubber-faced antics and broad comedic reactions — even when he sits silently and surveys the play’s developments.

Julia’s role is played to perfection by Olivia Dustman, who appears in her first season with the company. She is especially effective when she dresses as a boy to further her pursuit of Proteus.

Ambien Mitchell, second season with TAM, is also outstanding in her role as Silvia, Valentine’s romantic objective.

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As the “Two Gents” of the title, Chris Allen is very good in the role of Proteus in his first season with TAM, and Camden Earl Brown, also first season, gives a fine portrayal of Valentine.

Also bringing fine talent to their first-season appearances with TAM are Thomas Anthony Quinn, who plays Silvia’s father, the Duke of Milan, with style and skill; Max Waszak, whose brief appearances as the foppish Thurio are well done; Luke Bartholomew as Valentine’s clownish servant Speed; and Brooke Edwards, who is seen in the role of Lucetta, Julia’s maid. James Noel Hoban, second season, is seen in a small role as a hotel host.

In supporting roles, audiences will appreciate the fine work of TAM veterans Bill Van Horn (11 seasons) and Mark S. Cartier (16 seasons). Cartier plays Antonio, the soda shop owner and makes a brief appearance as doddering old Eglamour who is after the younger ladies.

Van Horn is Antonio’s servant, Panthino, and he also is one of three outlaws named in the program as Laurence, Curly and Moses. Van Horn is Larry, Brooke Edwards is Curly and Ryan Simpson is Moe.

“Two Gents” is one of several shows performed this summer in repertory by TAM at Cumston Hall. Remaining dates for “Two Gents” are July 21-22 and Aug. 1, 4, 9, 12, 14 and 17. Times for shows are online at www.theateratmonmouth.org. For tickets, call 933-9999.


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