July 2, 2004





Very engaging 'Gentlemen'


In the right hands, even a lesser Shakespeare play can be a lark. And while it's hard to name a lesser Shakespeare comedy than the seldom-performed "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," it would likewise be hard to find a more lively, committed "Two Gents" than the one the Independent Shakespeare Company is offering for free at the Hollyhock House amphitheater in Barnsdall Art Park.


A youthful Shakespeare effort, "Two Gents" has a callow take on the caprices of young love. The cad Proteus (David Melville) first vows devotion to Julia (Andrea Gwynnel Morgan), then falls for his best friend's girl, Sylvia (Melissa Chalsma). Proteus even engineers the exile of his friend, Valentine (Aaron Morgan), so he can have Sylvia all to himself.


Shakespeare adds a grab bag of fools, lackeys, even an impassive dog (Lorenzo Gonzalez), for little purpose but to garner guffaws.


And they do. Invoking the tradition of Renaissance traveling players, ISC uses a minimum of theatrical flourishes. The simple props, and Talin Mardirosian's often witty costumes, serve only to advance the storytelling.


The ISC troupers have a crowd-pleasing, commedia-inflected flair and a firm, supple grasp of the Bard's language. If a few veer from deliciously broad to coarsely hammy, it doesn't spoil the fun.


Male leads Melville and Morgan are endearingly daffy. The women are even better: Chalsma is as willful as she is willowy, while Gwynnel Morgan has a marvelously playful comic touch. Among the clowns, gruff Danny Campbell registers most winningly.


Under Chalsma's ensemble-focused direction, this "Two Gents" raises some well-earned smiles of a summer night.

--Rob Kendt


"The Two Gentlemen of Verona," Independent Shakespeare Company at the Hollyhock House, Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 7:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Ends July 18 (no performances July 10-11). Free. (818) 710-6306. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.