Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The Folger Theater Group is presenting a respectful, even grave, production of "Two Gentlemen of Verona." It's a comedy with a good deal more sparkle in it than just that grand clown Launce, who is very well done here by Terry Hinz. The run wil extend into next year.
The production's major virtue is the speech. Director Louis W. Scheeder has collected as exceptionally well-spoken cast. Its clarity of diction is a true pleasure, and one assumes that many of this company also will be in the "Hamlet" that follows on Feb. 1. Some of the players are familiar here, others are new and welcome.
One of the early plays, and one that foreshadows characters, situations and devices that comes later in the canon, "Two Gentlemen of Verona" is best viewed as a prankish discourse on how love addles our minds. Everything in Verona, Milan and the forest of Mantua gets out of whack because Proteus falls instantly in love with his best friend's girl, confusing pal Valentine, irritating the latter's faithful Silvia and almost breaking the heart of Julia, the girl Proteus left behind.
There are the situations of Julia disguising herself as a boy, the discovery of letters not intended to be read by others and the astuteness of a father who wheedles a secret about intended abduction through sly flattery of another love-struck youth.
This is all so obvious that friskiness must be found, as Guare and Link did find it for the successful musical version of a few years back. Scheeder has determined, wisely I think, to abjure clutter. The raked stage is bare of furnishings, a novel curtain arrangement is the basis of David Lloyd Gropman's design and the costumes by Dona Granata are relatively luxurious.
Thus, with good speech and spare space for the performing, the production has made a valid start. But the accent somehow comes on plot development, not on the absurdities of lovestruck youths.
A key to the play lies in the almost instant recognition of his perifidy by Proteus and the as-quick forgiveness of him by Valentine. If Shakespeare didn't intend to make these rapid shifts reasonable, he probably didn't intend to strive for the rational in his plotting either.
Playing in an even key, Allan Carlsen tends to make Proteus aware, even ashamed, of the trick he is playing on Valentine. The fun of the play lies in Proteus being oblivious to the damage he is causing and the dirty tricks he is playing. He should be so awestruck by his first vision of Silvia that he becomes a simpleton. Valentine is a straighter role and Michael Tolaydo does well by him, especially when he turns Robin Hood to help out feeble outlaws.
Hinz's Launce, as noted, is richly funny when he talks with us or to his dog. Crab Peter Vogt is especially authoritative as Silvia's father, and David Cromwell is the argumentative Speed, neatly put down by Launce.
Because their wigs are uncommonly awkward, and ugly, Mikel Lambert's Julia and Franchelle Steward Dorn's Silvia hardly come off as intended. For all not to recognize that this boy is a girl suggests blindness, not addleheadedness.