Round House Theater's eclectic, endearingly goofy production of "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," director Jerry Whiddon opts for cotton-candy colors and antic clowning, and still sees to it that Shakespeare's story, his first attempt at a romantic farce, is well-served.
In "Verona," Shakespeare tries out a few motifs -- mistaken identities, cross-dressing, sexual rivalry, bands of forest imps -- that would become standard features in his future farces.
Proteus excessively boasts to his friend Valentine of his love for the maiden Julia. Adventure-seeking Valentine pooh-poohs love and leaves for Milan, where he is instantly smitten with Silvia, daughter of the Duke. Proteus comes to visit his friend and, forgetting Julia, he too falls for Silvia, then plots to discredit Valentine and win her affection. Meanwhile, the forsaken Julia disguises herself as a boy to search for her faithless Proteus.
Joanne Schmoll gives an ingenuous and straightforward performance as young Julia. As Silvia, Kathy Yarman offers a controlled performance that shows her maturing attractively as a lead actress. Bill Whitaker is a quick and chameleonic Proteus, but Daniel Yates' performance is overdone and too callow even for the dilettante Valentine.
The supporting players often outshine the leads, notably Mark Jaster, who has some vivid moments in the dual roles of the Duke and Antonio; Jennifer Mendenhall as Julia's worldly wise lady-in-waiting; Nick Olcott as the asinine Thurio, Valentine's rival for Silvia; and deftly deadpan Daniel De Raey as the foolish servant Launce. All the human actors are upstaged completely by Launce's dog Crab, played with relaxed canine insouciance by "Gypsy Roy C.D.," whose every untrained reaction is priceless.
Other assets of this "Verona" include Chris Patton's original music, a kind of baroque lounge rock performed by Patton on a variety of electronic instruments, and Richard H. Young's many-staircased set. Rosemary Pardee-Holz's costumes are amusing for the most part, typified by Antonio's pinstripe banker's suit, cut at mid-calf and trimmed with lace, but several of the more garish getups become distractions soon after making their debut.
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA -- At Round House Theater through June 1.