Andrew Cownden as Launce and Gertie the Basset hound as Crab in the Bard on the Beach production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo by David Blue.
Andrew Cownden as Launce and Gertie the Basset hound as Crab in the Bard on the Beach production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo by David Blue.

Believed to be Shakespeare’s first play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona is light, silly, and superficial at best. Yet, in the current Bard on the Beach production, director Scott Bellis digs beneath the text, coaxing something deeper. Here, the space between the text sings louder than the Bard’s poetry, creating a new and more satisfying conclusion.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona follows childhood friends Proteus and Valentine as they pursue love and advancement at court. Proteus falls for Julia, Valentine for Silvia. But when Proteus then falls in love with Silvia he betrays Julia and his friendship with Valentine in his attempt to possess her.

In the end, though, all is forgiven. Valentine even offers his lovely Silvia to his friend to seal their rekindled bromance moments after Proteus threatens to force himself upon her, and the men excitedly agree to a double wedding. The women remain silent.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona’s ending is problematic for modern directors. This production’s solution is deft. While not wishing to spoil how this is accomplished, it does change the play from a Shakespearean comedy to a more satisfying study of human relationships in an unequal time. It is wish fulfillment, but it works.

The cast is outstanding. Charlie Gallant as Proteus, and Kate Besworth as Julia strike the right balance between juvenile comedy and endearing lovers in the opening scenes only to twist those same traits to their darker tones by the end.

Adele Noronha’s Silvia is captivating. Strong and firm, she builds a fully realized woman despite the insults slung at her by the male characters.

Kate Besworth & Charlie Gallant in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo by David Blue.
Kate Besworth & Charlie Gallant in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo by David Blue.

The comedic duo of Chirag Naik as Speed and Andrew Cownden as Launce, create new seams in the text, deviating and improvising to bring life and commentary to the show. But every scene is stolen by Gertie the Basset Hound who plays Launce’s dog Crab, displaying a quintessential chill with every paw-step on stage.

The physicality of this production could be a teaching tool for theatre school. The balance of choreography from Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, combat from Josh Reynolds, and comedic sight-gags never overpower the emotional thrust or story behind it. Julie Casselman’s sound design threads the same needle by creating unique musical themes for the characters, changing as they do.

It seems impossible to reinvent a 400-year old work, but The Two Gentlemen of Verona demonstrates why Bard on the Beach continues to be a force in Vancouver’s theatrical landscape. Giving voice to the silent women of its story, it upends the play and enhances it. It is sweetly unexpected. See it, and appreciate one of the Bard’s earliest works for yourself.

Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare. Directed by Scott Bellis. A Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production on the Howard Family Stage in the Douglas Campbell Theatre at Vanier Park until September 17. Visit http://bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.